Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Real World

I have not written anything in this blog for a while because I have been working on a SAMHSA grant application that has demanded every bit of free time and writing energy I could dredge up.

However, in a Risking Connection® training we were doing recently, a participant made the familiar objection: "we are not preparing these kids for the Real World". I’ve heard this a lot. The idea is that if we do not punish the kids for their behaviors they will never learn that these behaviors are not tolerated in the Real World- we are coddling them, spoiling them, and giving them an unrealistic view of life.

Consider the following analogy:
My 8 year old friend Ryan is in Instructional Little League this year. In this league the kids get five strikes, some times more if the coaches decide that the ball throwing machine isn’t working right. Everyone always says encouraging things to them: "good swing Cameron" (Ryan's team has three kids named Cameron, two girls and a boy) for a strike; "nice try" for a throw to a completely unpredicted part of the field. And the coaches constantly teach the kids skills: move your foot up a little. Keep your eye on the ball. Move your body to catch the ball, don’t just stretch. Every thing the kids do that is even remotely in the direction of what they are supposed to do is highly praised. They can only run two bases (otherwise everyone would get a home run every time, as no one ever catches the ball) and the innings are over when a team gets 5 runs. Obviously, the idea here is to begin teaching the kids the skills, and to limit the humiliation/ disappointment/ frustration they feel so they will want to play again. The game is set up to encourage success and limit damage.

And no one ever says: "we aren’t preparing these kids for the Real World if we give them special treatment like this".

Maybe we can consider our treatment centers to be instructional real life.

In the actual Real World ideas of Restorative Justice are gaining ground, and many more court systems are using them.

I would also hope, however, that the Real World that our kids live in will contain (as mine does) people willing to negotiate, and flexibility, and understanding. I hope that they will not in fact be punished for everything they do wrong (luckily, I am not). When they hurt someone, I hope they will have a chance to make up for it and heal the relationship. I hope that their Real Worlds will not be characterized by unremitting harshness.

In the mean time, maybe we can continue with the Instructional level and teach them skills, encourage them, and limit the damage so they will want to continue to play.