Youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers are undergoing significant stress related to arrest, the uncertainties of their legal issues, and the potential loss of freedom, trust, respect of family and community, and future dreams. Effective ministry to these individuals should be based on the expected duration of the sentence (30 days vs. 1 year) but should also be focused more on the transition out of incarceration and reintegration back into the community. The better this transition is the greater the likelihood that the youth will not recidivate back into illegal behaviors.
SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment for Individuals in the Criminal Justice System identifies the following key factors to consider when helping an individual coming out of incarceration:
- Substance use history
- Motivation for change
- Treatment history
- Criminal thinking tendencies
- Current offenses
- Prior charges/convictions
- Age of first offense
- Type of offenses (violent vs. non-violent, sexual, etc.)
- Number of offenses
- Prior successful completion of probation/parole
- History of personality disorders (unlikely if under 18 years of age)
- Infectious disease (TB, hepatitis, STD, HIV, etc.)
- General health
- Acute conditions
- Suicidality/History of suicidal behavior
- Any diagnosis of MH
- Prior treatment/counseling and outcomes
- Current/Past medication
- Education level
- Reading level/Literacy
- Language/Cultural barriers
- Disabilities (physical, intellectual, learning, etc.)
- Family issues
- History of abuse (victim and/or perpetrator)
- Other service providers (counselor, probation officer, social worker, etc.)
This is a long list of issues that require attention. Remember, you are not alone in service this youth. Partner with others that are investing as well. Establish open communication between you and the others so you do not unintentionally work against each other. Have the other providers come do trainings for you and your staff so that you can better understand the complexities involved in serving juvenile offenders. The more you can work together with the community the greater the odds are that your youth will overcome the obstacles they are facing.
What are ways you have partnered with individuals attempting to reintegrate after returning from incarceration?
Are there special considerations for juvenile offenders vs. young adults?
How have you been successful in engaging resistant families?
As with any behavior we engage in there are payoffs and there are consequences. This post explores the negative consequences of obsessive and compulsive consumption of pornography.
- Misusing sexuality or unhealthy sexual expression for the gratification of personal lusts and desires rather than the divine purpose if was gifted to use for (pro-creation and monogamous bonding/attachment) creates a host of attachments neuro-chemically and emotionally. When we complete a sex act (climax) we have engaged a process that includes attaching (oxytocin/vasopressin) to the object of our sexual desire. If these objects are images on a screen then we form a connection with those objects that was intended for your partner. Repeated gratification to pornography can lead to difficulty bonding with a loved one in meaningful ways, emotionally and physically.
- Because of the impact of porn, our ability to connect with others emotionally is reduced. The real problem is that our understanding of the true nature of sexual relationships gets polluted with porn consumption (creates fantasy). Porn creates something less life-giving, commitment-solidifying, joy-producing for transient, sensual, immediate gratification. As a result we learn that porn consumption, leading to masturbation and climax can be a powerful “mood altering experience” helping us deal with the stress of day-to-day life.
- Regular pornography viewing can also create a distorted perspective on reality. It reinforces body types that are not natural, sexual positions that are only for a good camera angle not a natural position during sex, it creates expectations for our and our partners sexual behaviors and puts pressure on both to perform as what is seen on the screen. Neural wiring changes occur due to regular porn viewing that reinforces our desires for what we see on the screen. We begin to crave in real life what we see on screen. This can also lead to a sense of emotional disconnect in which we are observes of our own sex acts rather than fully present with our partner.
- Emotional deregulation can occur when we become dependent on porn to relieve stress or make us feel pleasure. When we are frustrated with our partner being sexually unavailable we turn to porn out of frustration or to extract secret revenge for their scorn after a fight.
- In order to consume porn regularly we must disengage morally. This is dangerous because if done frequently or repetitively we lose our ability to empathize with others. Moral disengagement allows us to do that which is socially unacceptable by blaming others, justifying our behavior as deserved or just, or by displacement of responsibility of our choices.
- Porn will likely reinforce negative gender stereotypes. Cultural messages still support traditional gender roles and elevate the notion that women exist for men’s pleasure in a male dominated world.
- The shame and guilt that often accompanies pornography related problems is intense. One the episode is over these feelings rush in and drives the behaviors underground to keep them hidden from others. This leads to isolation and disconnect from important relationships. This can lead to depression or hopelessness and helplessness. The feeling that one is trapped in a shame cycle is often reported.
This list is not exhaustive but is a good gauge of what can happen to an individual that compulsively and/or obsessively consumes pornography. In the next post we will look at ways to walk alongside someone stuck in the labyrinth of pornography.
If you’re a youth worker then you already know about the abundance of pornography due to modern technology. If you don’t, you should pay attention. Due to new technology porn has never been more accessible, affordable, or anonymous than it is today. At the same time, sale of Smart phones to adolescents is driving the mobile phone industry. Add these two factors together and you have a new way to engage in an old struggle.
Young people are historically impulsive and vulnerable to addictive behaviors. This is not a revelation to anyone but the temptations and opportunities to act on those impulses have increased significantly in recent years. Viewing pornography almost seems like a rite of passage and current research tells us that first exposure to pornography is occurring at an average age of 11-years-old. The natural but curious nature of sex often makes it hard for even the most convicted teenager to resist the compulsion to revisit these sites again and again.
Accessible – Youth have unlimited means of accessing outlets to pornographic material today; smart phones, apps, tablets, gaming systems, the internet, television, pay-per-view, and peer-to-peer sexting. There are a myriad of ways that kids can intentionally or unintentionally view material that captivate their bodies and brains in a powerful way.
Affordable – Access to porn has typically come with a price tag that served as a barrier for most young people accessing such material. Today, much like a drug dealer that fronts you a sample to “hook” you, porn website offer free samples in short increments with the same intention.
Anonymous – Because much of this is done of personal i-Devices the stigma typically associated with these behaviors is diminished. One can privately browse content for hours and easily delete any browsing record of such indiscretions. Instead of going to the seedy gas station to buy a magazine, or to the backroom of the video store to find the adult movie selection, technology allows those outlets to come directly to the consumer.
I do not want to demonize the adolescent’s desire for sexual expression. God gave us a sexual desire and it is good. It is important to distinguish between normal sexual curiosity and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices. Nevertheless, we know that when anyone engages in a behaviors repeatedly neurological changes can occur, rewiring our brains to a “new” norm. Compulsive pornography consumption will fundamentally change the way we, especially our youth, will experience sex. Everything from expectations about sex to the physical experience of sex to our ability to attach to others in an intimate fashion will be impacted.
All is not hopeless. In this blog series we will continue to unpack to the problems associated with sex, as experienced as the norm today, and how we might have better conversations with our youth, their parents, and ourselves about sex and sexual behaviors.
The first time I learned about the validation that comes with giving someone permission to experience their reality came when I was 10 years old. I was regularly invited to sleep over at my friend Joel’s house. I suffered horribly from being homesick when I was younger. It was often a source of ridicule from peers and a source of shame from within.
On this particular evening Joel had invited me to come stay the night. I considered not even going to avoid the shame of Joel’s parents calling my mom at eleven o’clock at night to come pick me up. But the virtual Disneyland playground in Joel’s backyard beckoned me to come and I had brought my laser weapon, for my role was always that of Han Solo. Joel was Luke Skywalker and we would fight the clone army to save our beloved Princess Leia. I had to go, so I mustered up the courage to try again.
I walked up to the door with my mom in tow on a Friday evening after school, and waited for what always happened. I waited for my friend’s mom to tell me how much fun I was going to have that evening, and for the pressure of her promise to me that I’d never get homesick at their house. I was sure I would disappoint.
But Joel’s mom did something different this time. She brought me into the house, turned to my mother, and calmly said, “Goodbye for now, I’ll probably be seeing you later tonight.” I stared up at this brilliant woman who had become the first person ever to give me permission to be homesick. And because I walked around all evening thinking to myself that I could get homesick any time I wanted, and that it would be okay and even expected, I never once felt it come on. I stayed at Joel’s for the first time and mom got to stay at home.
Permitting someone ownership of the his or her beliefs, impulses, defenses, and their consequences in your presence, without applying any pressure on the person to change, is a powerful phenomenon for encouraging the very change never asked for. It’s a concept that Carl Roger’s coined unconditional regard. It is an active appreciation of one’s felt need to stay as they are even when negative consequences are apparent or severe. Never manipulative, never designed specifically for change nor offered up in the spirit of contradictory restriction, the act of respecting individuals’ control over their being and the choices they make serves naturally to liberate them from the need to defend, broadcast, or otherwise impose these choices. In the absence of fear and threat, an individual is freer to consider what is working and what isn’t, and make changes experienced as autonomous.
When I think about many of the strategies we’ve seen in youth ministry to “win souls” or “disciple” our students, I wonder how many of them actually CHOOSE Christ versus how many are simply pressured into conformity. It should come as no surprise when they leave our nests that they don’t return. I’m not implying that we shouldn’t call out the best of our students but too often our means doesn’t allow for an autonomous choice driven by an awareness that the old way of doing things isn’t working and the promises of God are compelling enough to let them go. Let’s give kids permission to be who they really are and to validate their perspectives and feelings (regardless of whether they reflect current reality). Maybe by doing this our kids will allow us the influence we want but usually try to take by force.
Over the years, I have sat through countless meetings with students and their families. Often when a family is sitting in my office it is due to a conflict that has come to a head. Early in my career I was easily confused by the complex dynamics represented by the family and at best could only offer vague advice or I would dole out shallow offerings of scripture and a prayer offering. Managing a tense family meeting takes skill and awareness that isn’t usually taught in traditional youth ministry trainings. We typically learn on the fly and by experience. The following is a set of guidelines harvested from years of collective youth ministry experience from veterans in the trenches.
Preventing Problems in the First Place
Get the Parents in From the Beginning
It does no good to sit in front of a reluctant teenager and try to get them to open up and discuss their difficulties. This can actually make things worse because it sets up your time with the student as one where the youth worker repeated appeals to the teenager for his/her involvement. This is like pulling teeth.
Because there is a disconnect in perspective from both parties it is best to start with both parties present. If the student is resistant then you can still work with the parents. If the parents meet with you before hand this can limit the next meeting when they come together. You will have already heard all the issues, so the meeting will start off on the wrong foot as the student will likely assume that there is an alliance between the youth worker and the parents. This happens because the youth worker will have to (a) relay what he/she has heard from the parents, which can come off a paternalistic; (b) the parents tell it again for the kid’s benefit, but both he/she and the youth worker have already heard it all, so it’s old news; or (c) the parents and the youth worker asks the student what they think the problem is and if they already feel like the odds are stacked against them they may become defensive or dismissive.
Exceptions to the Rule
As with all rules, sometimes there are circumstances in which parents and student should not meet together. These can include:
- The situation is too volatile
- The parents are psychologically unavailable (neglectful or abusive)
- The older student (16-18) feels empowered to address the concern on his/her own
Cautions to be Aware of
- Do not immediately assume that one party or the other is right/wrong
- Teens usually understand more than they are given credit for
Setting Ground Rules for the Meeting and Identifying Goals of Meeting
From the beginning some “rules of engagement” should be stated and referred back to as the discussion progresses. I always make clear my expectations when helping a family resolve conflict. I start by telling them that the goal is to help each understand one another and find a resolve that is equally satisfying to both parties, therefore, anything that does not move us towards that goal is not useful or necessary. Here are my ground rules for engagement:
- No interrupting
- No personal attacks
- Stay in the present
- Do not use the past as a bludgeoning tool
- Listen to gain understanding
As the conversation progresses the objective youth worker will want to practice listening. Be slow to speak except to help maintain focus and control emotions. Emotions can be counter-productive when trying to find a resolve and stimulate subjectiveness and self-preservation in each party. Here are some suggestions of things to listen for and they are largely defined by their absence: boundaries, respect, compassion, clarity, assertiveness, self-respect, humor, affection, listening to each other, genuineness, and empathy.
REMINDER: Remain neutral. Align yourself with all parties involved. As youth workers we may have a tendency to align ourselves with the student. If we do this we risk alienating the parents and possibly their alliance in their child’s spiritual development.
- Parents expect you to “fix” their kid while they watch
- Parents may indulge their child’s dismissive or defensive attitude
- The adolescent won’t talk
- Move forward regardless. As you converse with the parents the student will likely become involved, even if it is to refute their parent’s claims.
- Take the pressure off the student. Let them know they don’t have to share if they don’t want to. Many times the “silent treatment” is an attempt to gain a sense of control over the experience. By taking the pressure off of them it reduces anxiety and takes away their weapon of control.
- Allow the student to just listen. They may act disengaged but they are hearing everything being said.
- Observe the parent’s response to the silent child (are they shameful towards the student or dismissive?) Both of these send messages to the child.
Using the above strategies and information will not guarantee a better outcome for your meetings but it will increase the likelihood of finding a resolve between both parties. Be slow to give advice. 9 times out of 10 both parties just want to be heard and taken seriously. They simply want to know that the other party understands them and that they were important enough to devote the time necessary to reach that understanding. The youth worker can often help facilitate the family in reaching that goal and strengthen the spiritual alliance of all those involved.
Remember this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Man, this scene resonated with me because I had experiences like this when I was a student. I have also, unfortunately had youth ministry experiences like this when students wiped their saliva off their cheek after nodding out from listening to me drone on and on…
Our first objective as teachers is to capture our students’ attention. If we don’t gain their attention, the chance that they’ll learn anything is remote at best. The process of attention serves two primary purposes, the first of which is survival. The brain kept our ancestors safe by alerting them to possible hazards in their midst like strangers, thunder clouds, or wild animals. Fortunately, it is the rare occasion that survival is at stake in youth ministry. Instead, attention serves its second purpose – maintaining pleasurable feelings. The hot girl with the pierced tongue, a double chocolate ice cream bar, and listening to pop music are pleasurable diversions for modern teenagers. So are funny stories, terrible tragedies, and first loves, which the bible is full of.
So why does it seem that our kids are tuning out?
The brain is bombarded with information from the senses. Everything we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste finds its way to the sensory receptors, from the clothes on your back to the beige walls of the youth group room and the radio playing softly in the back ground. At the base of the brain is the brain stem, which controls involuntary actions like breathing, blood pressure, and heartbeats. Deep within the brain stem is the reticular formation, a system of neurons that gathers information from all of your senses and controls your awareness levels. Some awareness is at a conscious level (what you see and hear a speaker do and say) and some at an uncounscious level (the color of the walls or the socks you are wearing). It would be impossible for the brain to consciously focus on each bit of data it receives. You may be oblivious to the feel of a baseball hat on your head while the cute girl beside you captures your full attention. Consider the immense amount of information the brain is capable of absorbing, from the food stuck in your teeth to the lint on your coat, we are fortunate to be able to forget most things. Otherwise, we’d overload.
Ask a group of teenagers what they think about youth group teaching times and you might hear answers like: “Boring.” “Stupid.” “It sucks.” Of course, friends, potential dates, meals, and doodling don’t bore them; the adolescent brain is fascinated by (and seeks out) novelty and emotion (Koepp et al., 1998; Spear, 2000). Sitting through a youth group lecture (especially one that is self-indulgent) that fails to include either is the real test of a teen’s attention. Many teaching strategies have a great deal of difficulty keeping attention and arousing emotion, both of which are necessary to stimulate change in behavior. Lecture, which can be an efficient way to deliver information, is often not emotionally charged. Objective memorization rarely generate emotion and are often difficult to apply to real-world applications. Yet lecture is still a dismayingly popular means of presenting content. We miss opportunities when we overuse strategies that neglect our emotional and cognitive constitution – two powerful memory builders.
I’m not suggesting that we dress up like clowns and juggle for our students. I am suggesting that we understand their learning abilities and compensate for their developmental limitations and strengths.
How can we engage our students cognitive and emotional abilities in ways that motivate change in their hearts and their behaviors?
One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous speeches took place at Mars Hill, the Areopagus, in Athens. He noted that they appeared to be a very religious lot of people due to the sheer number of statues they had to their gods. In a brilliant move he identified the one statue that was for the “unknown” god and he saw his bridge. Paul then launched into his epic sermon about the “unknown” God and described our Father to the Greeks. He masterfully used a technique called bridge building to connect with his audience.
Kids today are completely enmeshed in pop culture. We could, and should be aware of what is shaping our youth today and much of what we see and hear impacts them more than we know. But I’m not simply talking about knowing what the newest Katy Perry song is blazing up the charts, what I’m talking about is building a bridge with a language of the soul.
In order to connect with young people they first have to know that you’re interested and trustworthy. They are most likely already suspicious of adults anyway. Too often we have an agenda for them and they know that. It’s what drives them underground many times. What we’re talking about here is a fundamental belief that we have something in common with the young people we love and hope to reach.
If we say things like, “Teens today are just so much more _________ than we were.” or “Kids today are just lazy and apathetic.” we create distance between us and them. If we fail to see that they have the same longings that drove us then and drive us now there will be no bridge to walk across. All we will have to work with is a shallow relationship and all the change we’re likely to affect is shallow compliance to an empty belief system. We have to find common ground and that common ground should be our shared humanity.
In his ground breaking book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Chap Clark identifies six intrinsic longings of all students. Those longings are: to belong, to matter, to be wanted, to be uniquely ourselves, for a safe place, and to be taken seriously. Who among us can’t relate to those longings? I work with drug addicted emerging adults. Daily they express to me their desire to satisfy those very longings and that much of their behavior was an attempt to do just that.
After some small talk I usually ask a student where in their life do they feel they belong. Where do they and what do they do that makes them feel like they matter? Who takes you seriously? Where are the safest places for you to just be yourself? These are the questions that matter to students even if they don’t have the language to articulate them.
What the Apostle Paul did was provide an opportunity for those in the crowd to have their longings satisfied in a permanent manner by depending on the One true God. A civilization that worships everything is an empty civilization desperately searching for meaning. They apparently hadn’t found that in the many false gods they worshipped.
We have the same opportunity to connect the kids in our community to the very God that Paul preached about to the Greeks but first we must take to time to build a bridge by learning about them and their longings. There is ALWAYS a bridge and it’s up to us to find it.