Almost three years ago, a colleague came to me asking for my help. He knew of the work I had done and still do with troubled or at-risk youth and wanted to see if I could speak to his Aunt (let’s call her Aunt Peggy). I told him I would be more than happy to reach out to his family and see if there was a need for my help. I called Peggy and listened to her plight regarding her son. He was sixteen years old going on thirty.
She told me how he was falling into the wrong crowd, smoking weed daily, being disrespectful, coming and going as he pleased, and was skipping school. I asked her about when it all started, if there was a specific event that triggered this behavior, and then I hit her with the tough question. I directly asked Peggy what role she played in all of this. Yes, he was almost a legal adult at this point but he still lived at home, under his mother’s roof. She paid the rent, set the rules, and was the one to enforce them. More than that, she is also the one to keep his well-being in consideration, teach him the skills to be a solid citizen and independent human being, helping guide him through life.
That was a tough conversation to have but I had to allow her to discover where she may be partly at fault in the situation. She shared a lot, including her lack of establishing control of her home and allowing him to do as he wished. We set up a meeting for the following weekend between all three of us, inside the home.
Obviously, I can’t give too much detail but what ensued was an interesting meeting. I arrived at the home, Peggy waiting in her worn lazy-boy chair. I asked where the young man was (we will call him Steven) and she replied with a simple, “I don’t know. I called him and text him but he hasn’t responded. He knew we were meeting at this time.”
I spent the next 45 minutes talking with Peggy and learning more of Steven. She had set up some bogus scenario of me being a therapist coming to help her through her relationship issues and the son was to be there for support. Then, we would spring it on him about why I was really there as if this were an episode of Intervention on A&E. I immediately denied that request and told her I would tell him the truth should he show.
She called a few more times but it went to voicemail, every time. Finally, as I was getting ready to leave, Steven came walking down the street towards his mother’s home. I decided to stay and chat with him. He reeked of weed, eyes low and glossy. After brief introductions, I told him outright that his Mom was not truthful about who I was or why I was there, then having Peggy explain the reality of the situation. She was worried he would be enraged. However, he appreciated the honesty.
We chatted for a while and I simply shared who I was, what I do, and got to know him a little bit. I offered my help by being a sort of mentor and male role model in his life. Steven’s father had not been present his entire life. He was reluctant to say the least. At the end of it all, I gave him my number and expressed interest in continuing our conversation, getting to know him better, and offering him a helping hand in life. He thanked me and off I went. Peggy was a bit upset that I didn’t press the issue of help.
Over the following three weeks, I called him twice and sent two or three text messages to his phone but he never responded. I reached back out to Peggy to tell her I cannot help someone who is not asking for help or seeking help. I had done all I could at the time.
This past week, I got a phone call. It was Aunt Peggy. She expressed that Steven, now nineteen, came to her asking about me. He said he wanted to talk to someone and he remembered our interaction, specifically that I blatantly called him out for being high in his Mom’s house but didn’t allow that to stall our conversation and that I never talked at him but rather with him. He asked Peggy if she could set up a time for us to talk. I am meeting with him next week to see what he has to share.
It’s an interesting beast working with youth, parents, and providing help. Often times, if court mandated or the child is not capable or old enough to accept or deny help, it is provided for them regardless of their wishes. But the individual always has the right to say, “No, thank you.” When we care for someone, all we want is the best for them but that may not be what they desire. They may believe, and rightfully so I might add, that their current situation is what is best for them.
We cannot force help upon people. Everyone has their own time and moment when they are ready to be helped. As someone who helps others as a professional and whom volunteers to do so in my personal life, as much as I may want to provide help, the person must be ready and willing to receive it. This is a sentiment we must never forget. Your well-placed intentions, if someone is not ready or willing to listen, may do more damage if being forceful with your message.
It is a hard pill to swallow knowing we cannot help everyone, even when we want to. We must always keep in mind that everyone has a right to live their life as they see fit, especially if it is not directly harming anyone, even if it is harming themselves. Giving individuals that right, that space, that respect and dignity, goes a long way. It is remembered and appreciated. When you approach the situation with compassion, understanding, and the willingness to listen, even if what is said instructs you to turn away, you will be better off in the long run, as they will hopefully and eventually get the help needed, even if not from you.