Just for Dads ~ July 2021

by Ward Williams
Executive director, Vineyard Family Services

The last Thursday evening in May was a moment of both celebration and reflection. The early part of the evening was spent teaching life skills to teenagers in the Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center. The latter part of the evening was spent at a four-hour high school senior academic awards ceremony that might have felt like being incarcerated.

In fact, the students in the Shelby County Juvenile Detention center looked like the students who attend the academic awards ceremonies. As I reflected, I realized what a fine line there is between the students at Juvenile Detention and the students at the ceremony, and I wondered what can be done to help those at the detention center.

As a teenager, I was never in the custody of the Juvenile Detention facility, and I was never invited to academic awards ceremonies—but I was close to both. I would have made the academic honor roll multiple times in high school if I could have avoided the constant “improvement needed” grade that I received as a conduct score.

There were many times in high school when my behavior, while never malicious, skated around the edges of legal and appropriate. I could have been an honor student with just a little more effort and a little or a lot less chitchatting in class. With just a couple different choices or by being caught in different circumstances, I, too, could have been a resident of the Juvenile Detention center.

I am very grateful for athletics, youth group, jobs, and positive friendships that kept me busy during teenage years, which lessened the time I had to make bad decisions. The high majority of teenagers who get in trouble are redeemable. The executive function part of the human brain, which controls impulse control, decision making, memory, and other important functions, continues to develop into the mid-twenties.

I am very grateful for mentors, youth pastors, family, and others who highlighted gifts in me and called out positive attributes that they saw could be developed. As parents, we need to help our kids be exposed to as many diverse, life-giving people, organizations, books, and art that will help equip and strengthen our kids when they are forced to make decisions that will lead them down particular paths.

It is really a multitude of small decisions that happen at unknown times that will shape their paths and environments.

Ward Williams is the founder and executive director of Vineyard Family Services. Contact him at ward@vfsdads.com.


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