Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dr. Martin Brokenleg

I've been meaning to write about Dr. Martin Brokenleg ever since I heard him address a packed house on October 30. He is an expert in the area of resiliency and has worked with staff from our District on several occasions. He teaches by telling stories- stories that illustrate, resonate, and move. He is a powerful man because of his honesty and his depth of caring. My notes will not do him justice, but they will give you a taste of what he believes. You can also check out his book, "Reclaiming Our Youth."

Here are some highlights from the three pages of notes I took:

- He believes that all youth are at risk.
- Between 3 and 6 PM, 90% of juvenile delinquency happens (as do most unplanned pregnancies!)
- The teenage brain works best between noon and 7 PM. One high school moved their start time to 10 AM and absenteeism dropped by 60%.

Four THEMES that are creating challenges for youth:
1- The belief that children and youth are not important. He gave many "living" examples of how we devalue children.
2- Devaluing of Human Presence. Families spend less time together today than they did 20 years ago. Technology reduces face time and we spend less time talking to our children. When you take out 'giving orders', one study found that mothers, on average, talk to their children for 3 minutes a day. Fathers spend 49 seconds/day!
3- The myth that the nuclear family (mom, dad, kids) is a sustainable unit. We are built to operate in groups of 250, not 4. The nuclear family unit cannot meet all the emotional, psychological, financial needs of the family members.
4- Fear of talking about spirituality. As Canadians, we shy away from it. We need to strengthen the spirit of youth and children- to teach the heart as much as the head.

HOW DO YOU TEACH THE HEART?
Not through words, but through actions.

Four areas (the Circle of Courage):
1- BELONGING: Every human being, every child needs to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel significant.
2- MASTERY. Everyone needs to feel competent.
3-INDEPENDENCE. Everyone needs to have a sense of self-responsibility.
4- GENEROSITY- Everyone needs to know their own goodness and virtue.

ON BELONGING:
Dr. Brokenleg asserts that nothing happens until belonging happens. When a crisis happens, the first priority is to stabilize the youth with support, create a connection. When this is in place, then you can look at correction, next steps, reparation, etc. Instead, many adults resort to shaming or exclusion or un-belonging.

If there are problems with belonging, you see these behaviours: distrust, exclusion, detachment, rejection, antagonism.

ON MASTERY:
Kids need to know that if there is a problem, they can fix it. They need to be able to demonstrate their success, often through the "Back Door". (Dr. Brokenleg told the story of a dyslexic child who was finally able to demonstrate his learning via Braille.) Setting goals, self-reflection, dealing with failure, coping with change... these are all mastery skills. Adults need to provide opportunities for mastery to flourish.

There is a problem with mastery, if you see: disinterest, confusion, not wanting to learn, feeling incompetent, learned helplessness.

ON INDEPENDENCE:
Majority rule actually disempowers people. Consensus models empower, because one person can stop something from happening. How do kids show independence? By resisting peer pressure, solving problems, identifying feelings, laughing at oneself. Discipline is empowering; punishment is disempowering.

Problem signs: Feeling coerced, unable to affect change, unassured, misled, expressions of futility.

ON GENEROSITY:
We should be able to give away anything. Dr. Brokenleg talked about the Lakota tradition of regular deep generosity (giving until the family is completely broke, feeding thousands of people at parents' anniversary). The first thing that happens in a crisis is you lose your sense of your own goodness. We must give children opportunities to be generous, otherwise they won't believe their own goodness.

Problem signs: emptiness, rancour, exploiting, vengeance, disrespect.

The last thing I wrote down was a quote from the Dalai Lama:
Compassion is the common ground for all. There is not enough kindness in the world.

2 comments:

Albertagirl46 said...

Thanks Sue for a great post about Dr. Brokenleg. Over the past few years I been able to attend two presentations that he gave. The wisdom in his book, Reclaiming Children and Youth, helped me get perspective with my kids, foster kids, their friends and even the adult ex-offenders that I volunteered with. I had stumbled across the book before I had the opportunity to hear him speak.

Using these strategies doesn't cost money and the long term benefits are priceless. It just takes a change of attitude and a willingness to revaluate the effectiveness of how things have always been done. That is usually more difficult than getting more funding.

shelaghdeacon said...

Hi,I would like to use the study on contact time between parents and children (mothers 3mins./day and fathers 49secs) for research in a University class. Could you tell me the name of the study?