“May I have your attention.” We’ve all heard the words and we react somewhat instinctively to them.
Typically, we stop what we are doing and turn to face the speaker with our focus on what comes next. In that moment of silent anticipation, we are prepared to receive and understand the information that is forthcoming. Whether it is a toast at a wedding or the beginning of a lesson or lecture during our educational journey, it marks the start of communication and formalizes that information will be flowing from the speaker to the audience. It is not a conversation.
Young people today tend to have the attention span of a hummingbird who’s been sipping on an energy drink and many well intentioned people have given up on getting their attention. We have not. We acknowledge that the task is difficult and that young people have an increasing number of distractions that make getting and keeping their attention very difficult, but we also know that it is our only hope of making a difference in their lives.
We start by limiting those distractions. Our cottages do not have cable TV and we only allow movies sporadically. We do have some video games, but they are a privilege and not a right. In fact, most of the fun activities at The Ranch are a privilege and are tied to behavior. If a child is willing to work hard and participate in their own success, we can keep them busy having fun while working towards their future. If, however, a child is unwilling to participate in their own success, we keep them working, but limit their privileges until such time as we can reasonably say that we do indeed, have their attention.
In addition to limiting distractions, we keep them active in three separate, but equally important areas; intellectual, spiritual and emotional. We keep our school open throughout the year and provide a plethora of opportunities to work on school. Many kids come to us 1-3 semesters behind and we can give them an opportunity to catch up. If they are not behind, we give them the opportunity to work ahead. Secondly, we keep them busy spiritually. We take them to church weekly and we also provide opportunities throughout the week by having devotions during breakfast and offer a comparative religion class as part of our Windmill Approach. Lastly, we keep them busy emotionally. All of the kids in our care are struggling with grief, loss, self-worth, self-esteem and value issues. Instead of avoiding these issues, we tackle them head on. We bring up, discuss and debrief difficult issues and we don’t shy away or cower in fear when we touch nerves that illicit anger and frustration. In fact, we embrace the anger and frustration as we believe that God gave us those emotions in order for us to go about the difficult process of changing the things we can no longer accept about ourselves and accepting the things that we want to change but cannot.
It can be exhausting, but we are committed to getting and holding the attention of young people. They may not verbalize it very often, but their desire is for us to lead them towards a better tomorrow by dealing with them today. We have to start by having something of value to say after we have their attention.