When I was a supervisor in a juvenile probation department, one of my probation officers sought my advice. She said one of her probationers was due in a few minutes. He was a fourteen-year-old boy. She told me he never talks to her other than an occasional “Yeah”, “hu-huh!” or “nuh-huh!“
“Sometimes, all he does is shrug his shoulders or shake his head. I don’t know what I should do. I know I’m not getting through to him.”
“Has he been in any trouble? How often does he skip his appointments?” I asked.
“Not once to both questions. I’ve seen him six or seven times, here, not counting court hearings, and twice at his home when I met with his mother. There have been no calls from the school but I don’t know about his grades. He’s not yet received a report card.””
“Well, that’s something,” I responded. “What do you say to him?”
“I ask how things are going at home, how his mom is doing, and how things are going at school or with his friends. Other than encouragement to do his best at school and stay out of trouble, most of the time I just sit there with a dumb smile on my face.”
I didn’t know what to tell her. I suggested she just keep doing what she had been doing and keep smiling.
“Most of the time, ” I said, “we never know whether what we say or do is making a difference in a kid’s life. Other than his mother, and hopefully a teacher, we may be the only adult who cares what he’s doing. And there’s no such thing as a dumb smile. Not when you’re smiling at a kid.”
She returned to her office, which was right across the hall from mine. A few minutes later the kid arrived and I watched as she greeted him and shut her door.
After a while, her door opened and the young man left, heading toward the lobby. N____ left just seconds later. As she turned the other way, she looked at me, shook her head and gave me a weak smile.
A moment later, I saw the kid return, peak into her office, and put a Tootsie Roll on the empty seat of her chair. Then he was gone.
When N____ returned, she picked up the piece of candy and turned to look at me with raised eyebrows.
“He snuck back while you were gone,” I said, smiling. “You are making a difference. Keep doing what you’ve been doing!”