It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Life Wants to Keep Living

newlife.JPGThe desire to battle the odds and keep living is inate; we want to survive. We’ve all read and heard stories about people and animals coming through impossible circumstances and surviving them.

 Recently, Michelle Shows, Executive Director of the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Gulfport, Mississippi, asked me to come and deliver a keynote and some training for a conference that was held in Biloxi. After picking me up at the airport, Michelle took me on a tour of the damage of hurricane Katrina and the area’s efforts at recovery. Although we’re some distance from August 29, 2005, a day that altered the courses of lives for so many, that part of the Gulf coast is still a long way from complete recovery. 

But that’s what they’re doing … recovering.

By an interesting turn of events, I almost didn’t make that trip to Gulfport/Biloxi. We had an arctic blast that seemed to stall right over us in San Antonio, shutting down the airport. (This is unusual for a part of south Texas that often has mild winters similar to parts of Florida and California.) We loaded plants onto a couple of big wagons and put them into the garage for the first time this winter. But we couldn’t protect the canna lily plants along the fence. They took the freeze and bit the dust. They were gone … or so I thought.

A day or two after returning from the Gulf coast, I noticed a little shoot of green growing upward and into the lifeless leaves of one of the canna lily plants. It wasn’t to be stopped; it was coming back. In it’s own way, it was recovering also.

Okay, plants aren’t people. That’s true enough. But they can sometimes teach us a lesson about courage and starting over.

James D. Sutton, Psychologist

January 27, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Inspirational, Self-esteem | 2 Comments

Fragile Questions (Part 2)

Kent Nerburn’s comments in my last posting are very true. I have validated them many times in my work with young people. Sometimes we are singled out for a special question or request, and a youngster doesn’t always handle the asking well. We ought, however, take a moment to reflect on how difficult it might be for the child to ask, or the many times they may have agonized over asking in the first place.

An example. Early in my practice as a child and adolescent psychologist, a 10-year-old girl was brought to me by her parents. These were wonderful folks. Dad was dying with cancer and knew his illness was having an affect on this their youngest, last-one-in-the-nest, daughter.

One day in session she looked up to me and asked, “Is my daddy going to die?” Can you just imagine how painful it was for her to ask that question? But in asking the question it seemed like she was searching for verification of what she thought to be the case anyway. Obviously, I told her the truth with as much sensitivity and support as I could provide. She handled it well; kids generally do.

On another occasion, I worked with a nine-year-old boy who had recently had surgery for the removal of a benign brain tumor. He came through the surgery just fine, but when he came back to school, he fell apart academically. It seemed he could not to ANYTHING after the surgery that pertained to class work.

He was a great kid–warm, cordial, interactive. Halfway through my session with him he asked, “Will I ever be able to THINK again?”

“What do you mean,” I questioned.

“Well, they took out my brain. How am I supposed to THINK?”

He thought the surgeon had removed his WHOLE brain! No wonder he was having difficulty! You should have seen the relief on his face and in his body when I told him he STILL HAD his brain. He instantly became the happiest kid I have ever seen, and his school work improved immediately.

But what if he had never asked the question that put me onto the problem?

Validate fragile questions. They’re important.

James Sutton, Psychologist   

January 22, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | 2 Comments

Fragile Questions (Part 1)

My Special Education teacher friend in Georgia, Frank Bird (I’ve added him to my blogroll), put me on to a favorite author of his, Kent Nerburn. Kent is a prolific author; his content primarily deals with Native American culture, philosophy and leadership. He shared in one of his posts something that is quite central to what I have attempted to accomplish with this blog. I want to share it here, and add some of my experiences in a later post.

I believe that, if every adult really grasped what Kent Nerburn is saying, and acted on it, the impact would be unbelievable.

James Sutton, Psychologist


  “It is a humbling experience to have a young person reach out to you for advice or assistance, whatever your role or status in life. It means they are open to your wisdom and your counsel. In that brief encounter, you can shape a life. We all get these opportunities, though not frequently. When they do come, they often do so in a clumsy or inarticulate fashion, because the young person who is reaching out has invested so much in the reaching that he or she does not do it with grace. Fumbling words, inappropriate requests, too constant a presence, a transparent attempt to seem worldly or knowledgeable — these are only a few of the ways this hopeful reaching for help and insight can express itself. e need to see past these clumsy efforts when a young person reaches out to us for assistance. We need to stop what we’re doing, open our hearts and ears, and hear what a hungry heart is asking of us.” –Kent Nerburn

January 15, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | 2 Comments

Can What We Learn from the Past Hurt Us?

Here’s part of a comment to my last post (you can read the whole thing at your leisure):

An experience can only be learned from fully if it is not clouded by assumptions from the past…otherwise your attention is not fully on the experience and lessons are missed because of it.

Certainly, some assumptions from the past can hurt us severely in present situations and the decisions and actions they require. I can’t tell you how many times a capable student has said to me “I can’t” regarding something that was well within their skills and ability.

 In any line of work, the concept of “experience” seems to be important enough that folks pay a person more for having it.  If you needed a good attorney, would you rather pick one fresh out of law school? Hey, they’ve never lost a case, but they’ve never won one either! Most folks would prefer an attorney that’s been around the block a few times.

What if you needed surgery? Wouldn’t you prefer to pick a doctor who’s done your procedure 500 times and has written journal articles on it?

What value are “lessons” if they are never applied to future situations and problems?

 I don’t argue that we are either benefactors or victims of our prior experiences but, on balance, I’ll take experience.

Besides, I like John Wayne, too!

James Sutton, Psychologist 

January 11, 2007 Posted by | Educators, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | 1 Comment

What Can We Learn from Yesterday?

“Tomorrow hopes that we have learned something from yesterday.”  John Wayne

In addition to her father, my wife grew up having three male “idols” in her life, only one of them still living: Walt Disney, Walter Kronkite and John Wayne. Not a bad lineup.

This quote from “The Duke” struck me as different. Does tomorrow really have hope? Do we always learn from yesterday? Do we always learn from our mistakes?

Someone once asked a successful businessman the secret to his success.

“Making good decisions,” was his quick reply.

“How did you learn to make good decisions,” came another question.

“From experience.”

“And where does experience come from?

“BAD decisions.”

Our children will make mistakes; that’s just part of life. Although we try to protect them from the really costly mistakes, to spare them the pain of errors in judgment is to hold them back from learning some of the best lessons life has to offer.

Yesterday CAN be a great teacher.

James Sutton, Psychologist

January 8, 2007 Posted by | Educators, Inspirational, Parents | 2 Comments

Just Be Who You Already Are

Here’s an interesting quote from Pablo Picasso:

 “My mother said to me, “If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general; if you become a monk you’ll end up as the pope.” Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.”

At first glance, it sounds like it could be an arrogant statement, doesn’t it?  That’s why it’s important to keep reading as his quote continues:

“Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.”  (Pablo Picasso)

Here’s my attempt at a paraphrase on Picasso. It might well be a good axiom for anyone, but especially for our young people:

Just be who you already are, enjoy the journey, and life will likely be kind to you. 

Consider how many folks hate what they do just because it pays well. They pay a dear price for it in lost health, dreams and potential. In other words, they sell out. Just being ourself is no guarantee of success, but it’s not a bad place to start, especially at the beginning of a new year. 

Have a great and blessed 2007.

James Sutton, Psychologist 

January 4, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, Inspirational, Parents | 2 Comments