Musings of Captain Justice a/k/a Gil Jones

Teens’ dreams of a future — how to foster — a public challenge

Many teenagers have no dream about their future and therefore have no life goals, and the drifting often leads to juvenile delinquency. How do we foster teens’ dreams of a future?

(rejuvenating this posting which earlier appeared on Facebook and a local forum — if reading this on Facebook, please go to the blog to comment).

Overview of the Teens’ Dreams problem

OK, this will be long, but worth the read. As your district judge I am also the juvenile judge. The juvenile justice system in Texas has jurisdiction of children from the age of 10 to 18, and has as it’s primary purpose the rehabilitation of a child who has engaged in delinquent conduct. Sometimes the community safety issue requires more than simply the rehab effort but that is always the initial priority.

A common problem is with kids who are bored, lack direction, have no sense of belonging, and can’t imagine a future beyond tomorrow and the next _____ (fill in blank with whatever time period — usually a short horizon — floats their boat). I have seen articles stating that everyone has dreams, but not equal opportunities. I challenge that notion and assert that if a youngster has no dream of a future then whatever opportunity exists will not be utilized. The stories one hears of a disadvantaged youth who succeeded always start with a desire for more — a dream that more was possible. That is, success is born out of teens’ dreams. Without teens’ dreams of a future, whatever future develops will be pot-luck.

After gnashing my teeth over this for years I challenged my juvenile probation department — and now challenge the community, i.e YOU — with the following:

The problem

The typical juvenile offender comes from a family that is undereducated, underemployed and unmotivated. The child’s environment in the typical instance does not inspire him to reach beyond his current circumstances and even if he becomes inspired from an outside stimulus, his low self-esteem — internalized from the unsupportive family — will not permit him to dream of a future much less to work toward one. Teens’ dreams are essential to growth.

The solution

Unknown, but what we do know is that my standard “figure out what you want to be, research it, and write me a paper on how to get there” is woefully insufficient.

The route to improvement (the challenge issued to the juvenile officers)

You. You know kids. You know their environment. You’ve seen some succeed and some fail. Your objective, should you choose to accept this mission (which is NOT optional), is to wrack your brain and your mind on this problem and come up with ideas on how to empower your juveniles to dream of a future and to have sufficient self-esteem to do so.

The presentation

On __________ we will all meet and each of you is asked to make a presentation of your ideas. There are no limits, no boundaries, no criteria, and no idea is off limits. Don’t be concerned with budgets or personnel needs.

Your presentation can be in any format from a verbal discussion to a PowerPoint with a 3-piece band providing background music. Bring your Big Chief tablet and #2 pencil to make notes as the presentations unfold. We will brainstorm after all of the presentations.

Initial results

We had that meeting and I heard ten great presentations from the juvenile probation officers (including one office staff who also had super insights). But now I want to seek the wisdom of the community as well.

Your input is needed — how to foster teens’ dreams

Some specific question to ponder, and to which I hope this posting is flooded with responses:

#1 — who convinced you there was something better out there for you? and more importantly how did they do it? (Marc’s (our juvenile chief) original question)

#2 — As a youngster growing up (say, age 13 and up), how did you come to think about your future?

#3 — Who or what made you dream about what kind of life you would have?

#4 — Another way of asking: who or what made you strive to accomplish “something?”

#5 — Who is the one person or thing that encouraged you to be who you are today? And more importantly how did they do it? (another of Marc’s specific questions)

Another view of the problem

My very wise cousin Nancy explained the problem in another dimension in a comment to my original Facebook posting this way:

The academic literature on this says that even if you “almost” have a dream, you will not let yourself own it unless some other factors are in place. (1) What do others whom you value think of this dream, but most especially (2) what is your self efficacy in terms of this dream. Which means, if you think there is no chance in *&%#* you will ever achieve, you protect yourself by not dreaming. The key, in my humble opinion, is self-efficacy. They have to think they can before they want to try.


How true, and well-put. So we must not only foster Teens’ dreams, but (a) the dream can’t be merely academic, the Teen must obtain real ownership and (b) we need to help them develop realistic dreams — perhaps baby steps — or failure of purpose is inevitable. As to her point #1 above, “we” — whomever that is in a given context — must be the valued person because the hypothesis is that the child’s environment lacks people to fill that role.

“Good” kids need direction too

While my inquiry is focused on the child who has engaged in delinquent conduct (typically drugs, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, theft, assaults, runaways), the inquiry can apply to any youngster who lacks motivation to have a life goal toward which to work. I expect we’ll come up with suggestions here that many of you can use.

C’mon now … let me have it! How do we foster teens’ dreams?

Judge Gil Jones
33rd District Court / Juvenile Court
Burnet, Blanco, Llano and San Saba Counties

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2 thoughts on “Teens’ dreams of a future — how to foster — a public challenge

  1. Kathryn Bohlin

    Gil, This is very good and thought provoking. I will give serious thought to the questions you ask. Have already sent your post to one other person and am thinking of others who need to read it. Wish we had more judges like you. Appreciate you.
    Kathy Bohlin

    1. Gil Jones Post author

      Hi Kathy, thanks for sending it onward. Every little piece of an idea can potentially fit into the puzzle somewhere.

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