The power of apology
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
I would like to first apologize for my behavior that night and how I reacted. I was out of place and didn’t think about how my actions would affect others. That night was uncalled for and so was my attitude; I’m trying to humble myself and put others first because even though I may not like or agree with something, I must first think about the consequences. I am truly sorry for how I reacted and not seeing that you just wanted what was not only best for me but the family as well. I felt stupid and acted immaturely and forgot what my values were. I was not respectful to you guys as well as to my siblings and our neighbors. My attitude and behavior were unacceptable, especially after how much you’ve done for me.
The above apology was the first paragraph of a four-paragraph apology letter written by a youth in Kauai Teen Court to satisfy one of the sentencing sanctions received during the child’s hearing sentence. It is one of the very best apology letters received by Teen Court.
In Kauai Teen Court, juries made up of youth referred to Teen Court often require the teen offender to write apology letters. Hundreds have been received and they go from the sublime to a second insult. The younger the child is, the more difficult it appears to be for he or she to make a genuine apology:
I’m so sorry for punching you in the face. Not!
This non-apology letter requires a re-write and requires the child to receive classes on topics such as “taking responsibility,” “victim impact” and “making amends”.
None of us should dismiss how important an apology is to a fractured relationship. Don’t let pride, a lapse in time or an excuse dilute your apology. The first letter quoted above is a perfect example. Recognizing and taking responsibility for your own hurtful behavior, how it has negatively effected others, honoring the people whom you’ve hurt and what you can do to improve the hurt are all necessary elements of a sincere apology.
For adolescents, teenagers and young adults, it is particularly difficult to take responsibility for hurtful actions. Brain science tells us the frontal lobe is the area of the brain where “our ability to generate insight, judgment, abstraction and planning” occurs and makes up “40 percent of the human brain’s total volume.”
If “the teen brain is only about 80 percent of the way to maturity,” Frances E. Jensen, M.D., professor of Neurology, states, “That 20 percent gap … goes a long way toward explaining why teenagers engage in all sorts of risky behavior.”
Because of a teenager’s “mood swings, irritability, impulsiveness, and explosiveness; their inability to focus, to follow through and to connect with adults; and their temptations to use drugs and alcohol and to engage in other risky behavior,” she compares their brain to “a brand-new Ferrari: it’s primed and pumped, but it hasn’t been road tested yet.” The family and school is where that new sports car gets tested.
After hurtful behavior toward the family or others in the community, we often ask our children “What were you thinking?” “How could you think this was OK?” and “Don’t you have a brain?” Brain science tells us that our children weren’t thinking, that their judgment is not fully developed and they may only have 80 percent of a developed adult brain.
When a parent asks a child “Why did you do this?” and they answer “I don’t know”, believe them. Impulsiveness is characteristic at this age and the child doesn’t always know why he or she does things. Blaming a child for being “stupid”, “thoughtless” or “crazy” only delays reconciliation.
Constantly harping at a child because of his unacceptable behavior damages the relationship and the child might believe saying he’s sorry will only fuel that anger toward him.
Instead, use this time as a learning opportunity to model appropriate behavior in the future. When your child apologizes for his or her behavior, accept it. It takes courage for children to apologize. Facing embarrassment and shame over their behavior, they are fearful of further attack.
Working together to improve the fractured relationship, to begin building trust again, and agree on ways to improve and inspire a child toward positive behavior improves family life and community life.
Encourage the child to make amends and provide positive alternative scenarios on how the situation could have been handled or should be handled in the future. Theologian, Tryon Edwards said, “Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.”
No matter what you’re told, or what you hear, or what you may see on television, saying you’re sorry to a person you’ve wronged is not an act of weakness. It is an act of strength and courage on your part and an act of honor toward the person wronged by you.
Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to www.haleopio.org