Delayed Gratification & Juvenile Justice

Jasper Smith

Jasper Smith

By Jasper Smith, GTA Instructor

When I visit the Juvenile Justice Center (aka juvenile hall) I always make it a point to always wear a suit and tie, as I’m sure most of the young men there don’t typically see a young African-American male wearing a suit and speaking professionally. Of course I won’t ever truly know the impact of such a visual, but I like to tell myself that it’s making a difference.

On my most recent visit, I had the group read a story by a Beat Within writer called, “The Signs,”which tells of a young man who began his life on the wrong path at an early age and NEVER made it to the right path. I asked a few young men to volunteer to read, and I was amazed at the silence in the room – a rarity among cooped up teenage boys. I think the story touches home for many of the young men and when you can relate deeply to a topic, it captures your attention.

After the reading, we had an amazing discussion and utilized one of GTA’s favorite tools, the Decision Tree to analyze the story. I had few of the students lead the discussion about every possible choice that the young man could have made. This activity is very telling in terms of what options the young men think they have in life. While most of their choices netted negative results or would cause them to stay in the “system,” I pushed hard to get them to think about turning that negative mindset to a positive one.

During the debrief, one of the young men made a profound statement:.”If there is something that I want, I want it now and I’m going to do whatever to get it!” Delayed gratification was the point I brought up, and I challenged him as to why couldn’t he wait. Many of the other students agreed with his logic, not surprising given where they are. After some back and forth, I simply asked each one of them to think about the long-term effects of their actions. I know these kids won’t sit down everyday to write out a decision tree like we did during class, but if they could at least do a decision tree mentally, that may keep them out of trouble next time they face a decision.