I hope you will forgive me if I share a very personal experience in this blog message. I feel an incident from my life may help you in dealing with difficult young men in your Scouting unit or Aaronic Priesthood quorum.
My wife and I have only been blessed with one child, an adopted son. Our son was 16 months old when we adopted him. At that time we didn’t know he had several psychological problems, including an autistic spectrum disorder, an anger management problem, obsessive behavior, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. With all of these internal problems the odds of him doing anything well was slim. Unfortunately I am a perfectionist. I expected my son to do everything right the first time.
My unrelenting focus on my son’s imperfections caused conflict and contention between us. I was constantly nagging him to improve. He resented and resisted my counsel. We were always at odds. I mourned that I was not blessed with a “normal” son. I feared I would never have a loving relationship with my son.
Then one day I had an extremely bad confrontation with my son. I had no idea how to handle his unruly behavior. I was so upset and had been pushed so far that I was at the end of my rope. I needed help beyond my abilities. So I once again turned to the greatest source I know when one’s burden is unbearable—I turned to the Lord in prayer.
I pleaded with the Lord, seeking revelation of what more I could do to develop a better relationship with my son. I told the Lord I was incapable of dealing with a son who had so many behavioral problems. I told Him I needed immediate and direct help. The burden was too heavy. I couldn’t take it anymore!
At that moment I heard a calm voice in my head say, “There are four types of feedback—punishment, criticism, advice, and reinforcement.” I immediately stopped my prayer, jumped up, and wrote down the four types of feedback. I thought, “This is cool! I will use this information someday in one of the management training seminars I facilitate.” Then I got back down on my knees, thanked the Lord for that moment of inspiration, and pleaded even more desperately, “I appreciate that. But I’m having a problem with my son. I don’t know how to help my son. Please help me with my son!”
The quiet voice repeated, “There are four types of feedback—punishment, criticism, advice, and reinforcement.” “Right,” I thought. “I got that. I even wrote it down. I’ll use that someday in training.” I was becoming more and more frustrated. I started sobbing and pleaded in exasperation, “Please, please help me with my son! I don’t know what to do with my son!!!”
A little louder and much more sternly the voice said, “There are four types of feedback—punishment, criticism, advice, and reinforcement. Which type do you use with your son?” I was stunned. I knew immediately which type of feedback I used with him—punishment and criticism. Then, ever so softly the voice said, “Which type of feedback does your son need?” I also knew this immediately. My son needed advice and reinforcement—but mostly reinforcement, encouragement, and acknowledgment. Having grasped the horrible mistake I had made in dealing with my son’s handicaps, I sobbed for a long time. I suddenly realized that I was the one who was handicapped because I was blind to my son’s true needs. I had been focusing on what I wanted instead of what my son needed. I cringe even today thinking about the years I spent trying to change my son, when I should have been changing me.
I tell you, as one who knows, that when dealing with unruly boys, sometimes you can change the attitudes and behavior of your boys far better by changing your own attitude and behavior toward the boys. I know it can be very difficult to deal with preteen and teenage boys. They can be a pain. It’s easy to criticize and want to punish boys when they are being disruptive or disrespectful. But that is not what they need. What they need is reinforcement, encouragement, and understanding.
When faced with behavior problems you should ponder how Christ would handle your most difficult youth—the one who challenges you the most. Jesus loved the unlovable. He tolerated the intolerable. He showed respect to the disrespectful. He had compassion for even the most difficult person because He saw that person as a child of God rather than as an unruly individual.
What I learned from dealing with my son is that by changing my perspective and my behavior I was in a far better position to influence my son for good. I learned that in life sometimes you have to sow what you hope to reap in return. For one “cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart” (Moroni 7:43). I know there is great power to change unruly boys when you praise the good they do and lovingly offer advice on how they can be even better. I have truly learned that you can get more from boys with honey than with vinegar.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- What is your typical feedback style when dealing with the young men—punishment, criticism, advice, or reinforcement?
- Are there areas where you may need to change your attitude, words, or behavior toward a young man?
- Do you express Christlike love toward your boys—even the unruly ones?
- Are you sowing what you hope to reap?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love” (Moroni 8:17).
-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.