Wednesday, September 01, 2004
tweens Correct bad behavior by doing good :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.
Grounding a young, misbehaving teen is one of the most popular behavior-control devices used by parents. The idea is to take away privileges, making her life unpleasant enough to keep her from acting this way again.
But there's another approach that might help make her a more mature, altruistic, less self-centered person with higher levels of self-esteem and integrity: community service.
It involves doing volunteer work that makes a positive contribution to the community in which you live. Community service stints are often administered by the juvenile court system to kids who have committed minor offenses.
When you hand out community service as a consequence of inappropriate behavior, you are giving your child a chance to learn and grow in a way that simple grounding does not offer.
Community services allows your child to:
• Learn the value of atonement. When given a consequence-with follow-through-a child has the chance to release any guilt she feels about her misbehavior and to start fresh, feeling good about herself again because she has done something to make up for her mistake.
• Get outside of herself. An act of misbehavior is usually a self-centered one-the teen has placed herself in the center of her particular universe and done what she wanted to do, without regard for anyone else. Helping someone else through community service reminds her there are other people with needs much more significant than her desire to have a later curfew or fewer chores.
• Develop a sense of gratitude. Volunteer work often places a teen in contact with those less fortunate. This highlights the contrast between all that she has and others may not-whether in a physical, financial, health, emotional or intellectual sense-and can help to remind her of the things she has to be grateful for in her life.
• Raise her self-esteem. It's often low self-esteem-either momentary or ongoing-that causes a young teen to choose to misbehave in the first place. Volunteer work helps her feel good about herself because she is doing something positive and helping another human being. The gratitude she receives can raise her feelings of self-worth.
• Make a contribution to the good in the world. Whatever your child's misbehavior, atoning through community service helps her counteract her wrongdoing by doing something positive. This alone can be your rationale for choosing community service rather than grounding as a consequence.
The length of community service you require will depend on the severity of the misbehavior and the demands of the service work. Skipping two weeks of English class may require a semester of tutoring elementary kids in reading once a week. Missing a curfew may warrant one Saturday helping at the church rummage sale.
Finding a place for your teen to serve his community should not take much time. People in need are everywhere, and simply stepping out your front door, picking up the phone or switching on the computer will put you in touch with them.
Whenever possible, choose a service that logically follows the original action and allows your teen to atone directly to the person he hurt. For example, stealing a candy bar from the local convenience store easily warrants helping the store owner stock shelves, empty garbage or sweep up the store for a week. Running over a neighbor's prize roses with a bike can require helping him to replant them, then watering and weeding for the rest of the month.
Not all misdeeds are as easy to rectify. Breaking curfew, extreme disrespect or fighting with siblings can simply be labeled “contributing something negative to the world” and be atoned for in any way that contributes something
To help her take responsibility for her actions, make sure that your teen gets involved in setting up the service project herself. Even if you choose the location, she can make the phone call, set up a schedule or arrange her transportation.
To locate community service options for your teen, try calling your local hospital, place of worship, village or township or call (800) VOLUNTEERS.
The United Way also offers a variety of volunteer opportunities through a number of locally run local volunteer centers.
In Lake County, (847) 775-1000 or visit www.volunteerlakecounty.org; Will County, (815) 723-8510 or www.unitedwaywillcounty.org; Lake Forest/Lake Bluff, (847) 234-8876, www.volunteerlflb.org; McHenry County, (815) 344-3555, www.crystallakenet.org/vcmc; Oak Park, (708) 386-3393, www.oprfvolunteercenter.org; DuPage County, (630) 407-6458, www.dupageco.org/volunteer; New Trier Township, (847) 441-7665, www.volunteercenterntt.org; Northwest Suburbs, (847) 228-1320, www.tvcrsvp.org.
Finally, find other volunteer opportunities on the Web at www.networkforgood.org and www.volunteermatch.org.
Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.