by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief
Recently, I had the chance to connect with the author of God, Help Me Tie My Shoes! The Sacred Contract of Fatherhood and gang prevention and interventionist Anthony Goulet. I wanted to get his take on the misconceptions people have about today’s youth, how parents and caregivers can identify at-risk youth and how they can help keep them on the right track. Here’s what he had to say.
eNannySource: What are some common misconceptions about today’s youth?
Anthony: The misconceptions about today’s youth are too vast to detail in a short interview. I will say that any and all misconceptions about today’s young people occur when our young people are viewed as anything other than what they are. What they are is Sacred, Miracles and Gifts. Any negative label placed upon our young people begins when adults fall further from the accurate perception that our youth are Sacred and are here with a profound message. Straying from the recognition of our youth as miracles begins a thought process that is unwilling to look at the cause of negative behaviors and only see the symptoms.
There are no “bad” young people; however there are many young people who are hurting. Hurt comes before anger and anger comes before violence. One specific misconception some adults carry is that some young people are unreachable and un-teachable. There is no young person who is unreachable or un-teachable, so long as the heart doing the reaching and the teaching is full of love, honor, and respect. Having to go back to our hearts to reach the “hard to reach” young person is just one of many lessons that our youth teach those of us who remain willing to learn from them. When we are willing to learn from our young people, they are willing to learn from us.
eNannySource: How did you end up working with at-risk youth and in gang prevention?
Anthony: I was labeled as an “at-risk youth” and went to programs with very good mentors who were able to take anything I gave them and turn it into something positive. I experienced the power of caring adults who walk a healing road to the best of their ability, and it positively impacted my life. These same mentors invited me to work at a youth program with them in 1991. It was in this experience where I found one of my callings and have worked in youth prevention and intervention ever since.
eNannySource: How do kids end up in gangs?
Anthony: The times, places and situations may vary, but there is one common thread for every young person I have been blessed to work with who was gang affiliated… pain. The pain the young person experienced in their home was more painful than the pain within gang life. Unfortunately, many young people endure abuse and neglect in every conceivable form, which leaves them traumatized. Although the cost within gang life is very high, there are some things in this life worse than death. As I’ve stated for years, the wounds within gang life are small compared to the wounds that cause our young people to choose a life within gangs. No, not all young people who have experienced the trauma caused by domestic violence, abuse and neglect become gang affiliated. However, we can be certain that most gang affiliated young people have been traumatized.
eNannySource: What can parents do to prevent their children from ending up in a gang?
Love your children by seeing them, listening to them and being a healthy example. Encourage the healthy and beautiful dreams of your children, even if it’s not your dream for them. Our children aren’t here to be us, so love them for them for who they are. Encourage them to live out the songs in their hearts and find the beauty in their songs to remember what they’re teaching us. Our youth are not looking for, nor do they expect perfection, they need their needs met in a healthy way, or they will find other avenues to meet these needs that can cost them their freedom and lives.
Cultivate the expectations and rules within your home that will cultivate what healthy relationships are, so that your children will have a healthy contrast when they encounter negative relationships.
Be nosey! Monitor all phones, emails and social media sites you allow your children to participate in.
Be involved in all their relationships, know their friends.
If your household does have a particular religious belief, cultivate your children’s spiritual growth with consistent participation in all activities related to your family’s spiritual practice.
Be involved in your children’s school activities.
Most importantly, be the example, which is true leadership, and there is no greater example of true leadership than a healthy, loving, nurturing and involved parent.
When negative behaviors occur, deal with them, but get to the root.
Do not accept unacceptable behavior, but be mindful to use those moments as an opportunity to continually cultivate a deeper relationship with your child.
Don’t react, but respond to both the symptoms of negative behaviors, while being creative in understanding the cause of any negative behavior. Parents must be the first responders on the scene for our children in all ways. This does not mean parents do not need support from others, but this does mean that parents must lead the way.
eNannySource: What is an at-risk youth? How can parents identify if their child is one?
Anthony: I strongly feel the term “at-risk” should be used more cautiously and with deeper contemplation. Remember that youth who are labeled as “at-risk” are at equally high certainty of healing and transformation. There are many factors in “at-risk” environments that we as parents and youth workers cannot control outside of our homes. An example of this is getting pinned down in the middle of a shootout simply picking up our sons or daughters from school. For the purpose of this interview, I am focused on what we as parents and youth workers can control. However, let us not lose sight of the fact that for many youth, even when they are fully engaged in every positive endeavor their lives, are still at risk due to what occurs in their surroundings.
In general terms, an “at-risk youth” is any young person who is at greater risk of becoming involved in negative lifestyles such as drug and alcohol use or gang involvement. At-risk youth are also at higher risk of being victims of violence, as well as being subjected to compulsory “care” within institutions. Although there are many systemic factors in this particular topic, with just as many factors that are outside the sphere of control for parents, the home is where risk factors are either significantly increased or decreased.
I’ve witnessed and experienced very healthy home lives in the middle of environments that held little resources. I’ve also witnessed and experienced very unhealthy home lives within environments that held many resources. Within our homes is the environment that we can control, so make it loving and supportive.
Identify your child as the miracle they are and hold to that regardless of anything. Before the doorway of any negative lifestyle is walked through by our youth there are signs. Some such signs can be withdrawing from people, changes in friends and changes in dress, a drop in grades, truancy issues, negative attitude and negative language and turning their back on the things they once loved, like a particular sport or playing music. These signs are significant symptoms. Are these signs always a symptom of gang involvement and/or drug use? Of course not; however, in order for us to know what these signs and symptoms are for our children, we have to meet our young people where they’re at. Rest assured that before our young people walk into negative lifestyles, they first turn their backs on their own hearts due to pain, loss and tragedy that went unrecognized, unsupported in healing or were caused within the home. Our work as parents is not to just force our children to get their grades up, but to know them – know the deeper issues of why their grades went down. Address these symptoms with the intention of getting to the cause of these changes so that the heart is healed. Heart to heart is not just a phrase; it’s what a real healthy relationship is.
eNannySource: What’s your best advice to parents of at-risk youth?
Anthony: Take the lead in the great reclamation of the optimal potential of your family. Lead yourself to good parenting programs and support groups. Lead your child to outside resources, such as youth and mentoring programs. Grow with your child and face the intergenerational trauma and unresolved issues with your child so that you grow together. Break any negative cycles that exists within your family with true courage that only love can provide. I know this process is not easy, as a matter of fact it is at times very painful, but it’s worth it! We can ignore the pain that leads to more pain, or we can courageously face the pain in a supportive manner with our children to free ourselves and our children from unresolved injustices. There are many available programs and services for youth and parents, just reach out. Help is a word used by the strong!
Anthony Goulet has been working in youth prevention and intervention for the past 21 years. Anthony has led gang prevention and intervention programs, as well as prisoner reentry programs. He has worked as a Certified Addictions Counselor with gang affiliated youth and adults providing relapse prevention for substance abuse and criminal behavior. Anthony is also the author of God, Help Me Tie My Shoes! The Sacred Contract of Fatherhood, which was a finalist in the 2012 Hay House Nonfiction writing competition.← Expert Insights with Susan Tokayer and Becky Kavanagh, Co-Presidents of the International Nanny Association | Expert Insights: Helping Students Strategize for College with Career Coach Crystal Kadakia →