I'm about to launch my second year as a staff member of WINGS for kids. Last year, I was a mentor for eight kindergarten boys.
My job involved spending three hours a day, every school day, guiding my group through social/emotional lessons. Each lesson is designed to make them better students, and stronger members of their community. I was honored to be able to teach these boys so many lessons.
I am writing because almost every day brings another news story about a young person in this community being involved in violence. Victim or perpetrator, these young adults remind me that it doesn't have to be this way. Young people - particularly young men - are too often caught up in these violent acts. They make bad choices. And I now believe it is because they never learned how to make good choices.
A lot of us don't realize we were taught the skill of making good choices. Every time I read these stories, I wish these young people could have been enrolled in one of our programs.
They would have learned very early about one of our key lessons: the Yes Mess. It may sound too simple, but it works because it is simple. It involves teaching people to ask themselves if they are in a Yes Mess, by reviewing: Could anyone else be hurt by this? Could I get in trouble? Can anything bad happen? Answering "yes" to any of these means you're about to be in a mess.
For kindergartners, this involves an adult like me identifying when children are making bad choices.
We pull them aside, and ask them if they think this is the best choice to make right now. If it's not, we ask them why it's a bad choice for themselves, and the others it will affect. Then we ask them to pick a better choice. We reward them for making a better choice.
This technique works well with young children, who suddenly have to say the words out loud to an adult. It makes them accountable to me, to themselves, and to their community.
Do I think Yes Mess could work for a young person on the street? I do.
A single mother raised me, and I was fortunate to learn about consequences from her. Today, I work two jobs, pay my rent, and will graduate from the College of Charleston in December.
The way I was raised taught me to evaluate my choices. I learned to ask myself if the choice I was about to make would harm me, or disappoint my mother.
I think that we need to teach young people the simple technique of Yes Mess - when they are in elementary, middle and high school. We can teach them that taking just a second to pause, inside their own heads, and think could save their lives or the lives of others. And it could avoid heartbreak that violence brings to others.
I know Yes Mess sounds simple.
But it really helps people break down situations that feel complex at the time.
I'll be returning to WINGS this year as a behavior specialist and can't wait to help more kids learn to be successful.