This week my message at the juvenile detention center was on forgetting the past, straining toward a better future, and pressing on to achieve their purpose. I said it wouldn’t be easy, but that is what straining is about – focused determination. I emphasized that following the narrow path isn’t going to be without obstacles, but blessed. Like so many times, many of the youth were encouraged and uplifted to think beyond their circumstances for a few minutes and encouraged to believe in themselves to achieve more than what they are settling for in life.

As I finished, the guards began to serve the youth their snack.  All of a sudden there was a confrontation with one of the youth disrespecting a guard.  He was asked to give his last name, in order for her to check off his name for him to receive his snack.  He wouldn’t give it to her, so she wouldn’t give him the snack.  He walked back to his seat, but yelling about how he was being treated.  “I gotta have my cheese stick!”

It seems so simple and logical to most people. Show a little respect and courtesy and things will go better for you.  But in a world in which many of these teens live, showing respect is seen as a weakness.  If you want “street cred,” then you assert yourself as the leader – the alpha dog.  This young man was trying to show himself the “alpha dog” to all the other youth.  “I gotta have my  cheese stick.”

I wanted to laugh at loud at him and say, “all this fuss for a cheese stick??”  I wanted to jump in his face and say, “listen young man, if you want to get respect, then give respect.  Humble yourself a little. Strain a little.  Grow up!!”  But knowing this is how adults typically treat him and knowing it would escalate the situation, I kept my restraint and allowed the youth staff at the facility to deal with it, which they did effectively.

I gotta have my cheese stick!

Is that really what he wants?  In a world of hurt that this young man is in, the cheese stick is so silly – so ridiculous to get mad about or to lose privileges over. This is the state of affairs in so many of these young lives.  They really have no idea where they are going or what is important, so they scrap and fight for every little thing that they feel they need.  They feel that the world has been so unfair to them.  They have a scarcity mindset – the mindset that says there is not enough, so I need to fight for what I need.  It is what allows their minds to believe that it is okay to steal or exhort from others, because others have more – steal from the rich and give to myself and mine.

In reality the cheese stick is just a metaphor of what he really wants. He wants attention. He wants acceptance.  He wants to be loved, despite his actions.  So despite my desire to get in his face and say “grow up” young man, I gave him my hand and shook his.  I gave respect he didn’t deserve and acceptance that his actions tried to push away.

Replay Outreach exists to give youth the “cheese sticks of life” that teens really do “gotta have!”