Sharon Scott Family Counselor

Praise and the Juvenile Delinquent

Listen to a Podcast with Sharon Scott

What does praise have to do with juvenile delinquency? A lot! The last two monthly columns I have devoted to the skill of praise. We have learned 1) praise is specific’not just a vague ‘atta boy,’ 2) praise never has a negative phrase in it such as ‘I didn’t think you could do it’ or ‘This is better than last time,’ 3) praise is given regularly and with enthusiasm, and 4) praise should outnumber corrections, reminders, nagging, fussing, etc.

Many years ago I received a phone call from a mother saying that she had to call the police on her son as he was beating her up. The judge was keeping her son, whom I’ll call Sam, in juvenile detention for 30 days. The judge told her that he wanted her to schedule a counseling appointment for she and Sam in 30 days so that was why she was calling me. She actually wanted an appointment the same day he got out!

Thirty days later the mother and her scruffy looking 14-year-old (who looked 16) arrived at my office. As you can guess, Sam was not a happy camper. The mother relayed many traumas in their lives. Sam’s father had committed suicide prior to his birth and his older brother had just terribly disappointed Sam by announcing he was gay. Sam was a macho boy and embarrassed by his brother’s sudden lifestyle change.

When I brought Sam into my office, he sat with eyes diverted, crossed arms, leaning back in his chair. He said little except if I made him mad at which time he’d lean forward, breathe heavily, and talk aggressively. This boy was full of rage. I didn’t get a lot from him that day and didn’t expect that I would.

I have a goal of giving my clients three praise statements while in my office, so on the next visit I was hoping to find something to praise him for. I was counseling the mother in how to manage such a strong-willed son and to appear in positive control. While I talked to her, I learned he had helped her fold clothes. Good’there’s one praise I can state! She returned to the waiting room while I brought him in.

I was hoping to have a praise about his appearance, but his shirt had something obscene on the front. However, when he turned to sit down, I noticed his name printed on the back in sparkly letters and commented on how cool the letters were. He turned his back to me again so that I could see them better. I then commented on how helpful he had been by helping his mother fold clothes and I was now getting good eye contact. Good’it’s working.

He’s talking and I’m listening for a third opportunity to praise. I suddenly noticed that he’d had his hair cut (it had been shaggy the week before) and that it looked good. In fact, I interrupted him to say, ‘Wow! I noticed you’ve had your hair styled! It looks sexy! {Normally, I wouldn’t use the word sexy with a teen; however, he was so mature and worldly that I thought it most appropriate.} Well, when I said that, he sat up in his chair and excitedly discussed that he had gone to a stylist (rather than a barber) and we spent awhile discussing whether gel or mousse was better!

That turned the tables. I obviously still had a lot of work to do with Sam and his mother and they were in counseling with me for many months, but that made him feel good enough that he could even try to become the decent person he was inside. I eventually closed their case and was sure that life would be better for both of them.

Counselors rarely know the end of the stories of their clients, but I was pleased that I did learn more about Sam years later. I was in line at Taco Bueno to place an order. From the pick up line, I heard someone shout my name and come running to me. It was Sam’all grown up and handsome and strong. He told me that he was now a high school senior and planned to go to the local community college after graduation. He was an A/B student! He had a part-time job and had bought himself a car. He was proud to say that he and his mother and brother were very close and getting along wonderfully.

Had it not been for the amount of praise that I gave that angry, troubled kid, I’d never have broken the ice to be able to help this nice family. Praise always makes a difference.

Excerpted in part from Sharon’s classic guide for parents,

Copyright 2018, Sharon Scott. No reproduction without written permission from author.

Sharon Scott

Sharon is the author of eight award-winning books including four on the topic of peer to peer pressure.

The guide for parents/educators on how to peer-proof children and teens is Peer Pressure Reversal: An Adult Guide to Developing a Responsible Child, 2nd Ed.

Her popular book for teens, How to Say No and Keep Your Friends, 2nd Ed., empowers kids to stand out,not just fit in!

A follow-up book for teens, When to Say Yes! And Make More Friends, shows adolescents how to select and meet quality friends and, in general, feel good for doing and being good.

Sharon also has a charming series of five books for elementary-age children each teaching an important living skill and "co-authored" with her savvy cocker spaniel Nicholas who makes the learning fun.Their book on managing elementary-age peer pressure is titled Too Smart for Trouble.
Sharon Scott ScottCounselor's CornerPeer PressurePraise and the Juvenile Delinquent By Sharon Scott, LPC, LMFT Listen to a Podcast with Sharon Scott What does praise have to do with juvenile delinquency? A lot! The last two monthly columns I have devoted to the skill of praise. We have learned 1) praise...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids