We were at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting when a member of a rival gang walked in the room. The atmosphere of the room changed. I was a group home counselor and I had 6 young men with me, at least half of whom were from a particular gang. Eyes were locked for the remaining of the meeting. When the meeting was over, an OG gangster who was a friend of our program told me to corral my guys and leave quickly as he’ll try to diffuse the other guy. But when we got outside, I couldn’t even get the guys to the van before the other guy came out. When they saw him, it was impossible for me to diffuse the tension even when I threatened that I would pull-off. Bodies were tense and no gang member wanted to leave without an altercation.

The OG stood between the parties and pleaded for there to be no activity. He mentioned the bigger picture of them being able to keep the N.A. meeting at that location. Slowly, the OG’s respect overwhelmed the need to fight and we filled our van and drove home.

When it comes to getting our youths to develop behaviors that are beneficial to themselves and society our nation is all-in. Some youth who don’t have sufficient control to bring about the behaviors that our country values end up in juvenile halls or group homes for a last attempt of modifying their behavior before the consequence of further deviant behavior is prison.

Grade schools are on the front line of defense in this battle and are using their moments for more than just teaching academic lessons, it’s also where the development our youth’s social behavior is purposed.

Most grade schools have a school psychologist who lends their expertise on behavioral issues. And most educators have probably heard the line of logic below from their Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) or other embedded systems the school’s administration use to help have a proactive behavioral management approach for the youth in their care.

If our kids don’t know how to write, we teach them.

If they don’t know how to read, we teach them.

If they don’t know how to play a sport, we teach them.

If they don’t know how to behave what do we do? Teach or punish?

Why do we teach fundamentals for other things that our youth don’t know how to do and none for behaving? Actually we do and I’ll share an overview of which behaviors schools and psychologists are generally looking for and attempting to develop and by what age. Parenting skills or family support services are very helpful during these moments also.

By 4 years of age:
Your child should begin to develop impulse control. They should be able to recognize and stop (begin stopping) an outburst when told.

By 12 years of age:
Your child should know how to problem-solve social issues. A simple example would be if they get angry because a friend is talking with another friend, they should be able to communicate their feelings and find a solution. Or if someone cuts in front of them in line, they should be able to understand how to deal with that without acting on their anger. The skills to learn here are under the term social-emotional learning. Here is where bullying really begins to take shape.

By 18 years of age:
Your child should know how to mentally adapt to developmental differences (i.e. physical and skills) between themselves and their peers and be able to adapt to the requirements within different environments. They should be developing the skill of self-regulation in the face of social resistance – convicted by their own values. Substance-abuse and delinquent behavior are what schools are looking to help curve in the life of pre-adult youth. They should be learning life skills and should know the difference between pro-social behavior and no-social behavior. Just because you refuse to hang out with a crowd does not mean that you’re anti-social; you rather hang with folk who do social things that you like. At this age it’s about focused identity that changes only through personal experience or critical thinking.

Not every kid develops exactly during the timing this framework lays out and the reasons for this vary (ex. home environment, poverty, friends etc). Unfortunately if youth don’t learn these lessons in time, we use group homes as an active part of behavioral development for those youth who are close to crossing into a consistent behavior of criminality or truancy in our country.

While working in the group home system I realized that the youth in my home misbehaved because they hated people telling them what to do, who they will be and what they can’t do. They wanted to be themselves. They wanted independence to make their own choices, free from the influence of any person – personal agency. That’s hard to give seeing that the framework they’re using to make their decisions are getting them into trouble. So group homes teach them and so do our educators.

The problem I’ve found is while the youth can understand what they should do in different scenarios in a coaching/education setting, getting adolescents to choose those right choices in a real life setting, without supervision, is impossible. We can only hope that the lessons stick with them.

As coaches and educators we can’t make our youth behave well outside of our lesson-space. In the same way, religions nor countries can make their congregants and citizens behave, but they can help the people remember the lessons they want to promote much easier. How? Symbols, images or slogans.

Symbols carry the meanings of lessons much easier than the isolated insights. Christianity has the cross, Muslims have the crescent moon and star, Countries have their flag, people have tattoos and political platforms have their slogans. What symbol, image or slogan does Social and Emotional Learning have that can help carry the lessons across grade school ages in and outside of the classroom?

The Core FOUR Sequence (C4S) is biologically grounded to hold those social-emotional lessons within its frame. And it’s a great option for a consistently easy to remember image and repeatable sequence.

The C4S represents the fundamentals of behavior just like there are fundamentals for reading, writing and sports. I can hear “Who controls your Core FOUR?” echoed throughout the halls of grade school as a slogan and posted image that presents our youth with the personal agency they crave but filled with lessons learned from great social-emotional programs. The image is socially self-reinforcing and I see it being used as a measure promoting self-control.

Well, until that day, I’ll continue using the C4S as my coaching lens and performance psychology tool for helping athletes and others to get over mental hurdles, become more self-aware and increase their self-regulation. And I hope that there continues to be more OG’s that are able to help stem the tide of violence in our streets. Right now, they are the symbols and slogans that help most.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

© 2018, Ira Webbe Jr, all rights reserved

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