Reaching Kids: Story of Failure and Call to Action

February 12, 2009 at 3:52 pm 2 comments


Every time news breaks of another premature teen death, school shooting, or violent hate crime all of us at OneSeventeen Media cringe and ask, “Could we have prevented that?”

Eliminating youth violence and providing kids the resources to be heard and make better decisions requires all of us working together and taking on the responsibility of acting independently to impact youth. Instead of blaming different programs, or the lack there of, the question needs to be, “What can I do to make a difference?” At OneSeventeen Media, we’ve decided to make our life’s work answering this question through our products.  The center of our mission in designing PlumbBrain is to create a community to support tweens and teens in the really complicated process of growing up. 

What we’ve learned through our research is that youth are significantly less likely to drop out of school or act out violently if they feel they have a meaningful relationship with an adult in their lives. Be that adult. If you’re a teacher, reach out to a student on the edge with kindness, if you’re outside of the classroom volunteer to mentor and build that relationship with a child who needs you or even just seek out quality time with a kid you already know. Particularly look out for kids who aren’t necessarily the dynamic ones with great people skills and easy to engage, but they are the ones who most need our attention and our time.  The Boys and Girls Clubs of America is a great place to start if you’re looking to get involved.

susan-keehn-photoThe long term impact of positive attention from a mentor most clearly sticks out to me in a story about my mom (Dr. Susan Keehn, pictured on left) and one of her 2nd grade students, “Alex.” Alex and I were in 2nd grade at the same time, and he was in my mom’s class. Alex was a hellion. Never in my mom’s 30+ year career had there been, or was there ever, a student who gave her as much grief. I’d known him since kindergarten, and I’d already figured out he was an angry kid you steered clear of at all times. However, my mom was not as easily deterred by Alex’s behavioral call for help. Much to my young dismay, he became a regular fixture in our minivan for trips to the park, cookie baking sessions and museum visits. In small groups Alex did really well, but it didn’t stop him from still being a classroom terror come Monday morning.

While Alex’s behavior improved slightly, he still struggled to control himself. When his second grade year ended, my mom felt a mix of relief and failure that she wasn’t able to make more of an impact on Alex’s life. He moved and Mama and I changed schools in the next year, we simply lost track of Alex in the system. We’d occasionally hear tidbits about him, usually indicating he was just further down the slippery slope evident in his second grade behavior.

When Alex and I should have both been in 10th grade, my mom got a call from juvenile detention, where he was incarcerated for gang violence, asking her to come out for an intervention, at Alex’s request. She was one of “the only two people who ever cared about him in his life”— his grandma, and his second grade teacher.

Mom went and participated, but without any real resolution. I don’t know where Alex is today, but while his story might not have a happy ending, the lasting impact of my mom’s experience with him is my understanding of the power of mentoring and relationship building. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s absolutely necessary. Imagine how Alex’s story could have been different if he’d been shown along the way that more adults cared about him. Make the decision to be one of those adults for an Alex in your life.

(Image found here and here)

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Entry filed under: Doing Good, Education, Kids, OneSeventeen Media, PlumbBrain, Relationships, School, Volunteering, Youth. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bcarls  |  February 17, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Wow, what a life lesson you learned from your mom! Robert Coles writes that “children are ever-attentive witnesses” – I know there was so much Alex learned from your mother just as you did.

    As a mother, I’m very proud of my oldest son who signed up as a Big Brother last year. He spends time mentoring an 8 year old boy. I can tell he has learned so much from his young new friend – just as his friend has learned from him.

    What a selfless act for us to mentor someone. And, how important for us all to remember that whether we are actively involved in a mentoring program or even have children that we are being watched. What impression are we making on the children in our lives?

  • 2. Drew C.  |  February 17, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I could not agree more with the impact adults can have on a young person’s life. I currently have the privilege of participating in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program. The need is real. Young boys and girls in every community need opportunities presented to them that allows for a glimpse for something greater. Right now, I am mentoring a soon-to-be nine year old boy currently in the third grade. My experience has been far beyond rewarding. I hear from my Match Support Specialist that my mentee and his mother agree.

    I felt the the need was great in my community. And, I knew how wonderful my experiences have been with mentors and the immeasurable growth I have seen in myself because of them. That’s when I was drawn to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

    My reward has been great. I hope that my mentee is able to take away important life lessons from this experience. And, I look forward to continuing our relationship for years to come.

    My commitment is small. Two hours every other week. But, the impact lasts much longer.

    Recognize the need. Join your community partners to make a difference.


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