Do you bemoan the fact that your teen has a disadvantage? To be honest, the very term “disadvantaged youth” makes my skin crawl. It reeks of a victim mindset that can be far more crippling than any disability, real or imaged. Does it matter how we think and talk about these things? According to psychologists and educators alike, it definitely does.
Descriptions vs. Labels
I know it’s pretty subtle, sometimes, but the difference is there. Remember when referring to someone as a “handicapped person” became a faux pas, in favor of the more descriptive “person with disabilities”? The basic reasoning was that in putting the word “person” first, we as a society would be reflecting — and, by extension, influencing — a mindset that considered all people as people, first, instead of simply labeling some (verbally and mentally) as, essentially, “damaged goods.” Here’s one explanation: “The purpose of people-first language is to promote the idea that someone’s disability label is just a disability label — not the defining characteristic of the entire individual. “
Ironically, in the same culture in which such careful considerations are made for people with physical disabilities, many children and teens are being labeled with a variety of emotional and mental disabilities at an alarming rate. The same concept regarding people-first language is important.
Differences vs. Disabilities
Many educators prefer to use the phrase “learning differences” instead of “learning disabilities.” While naming, or diagnosing, a learning difference can be helpful in prescribing specialized instruction or study accommodations, it can also lead to self-defeating thinking for the student. Labeling can also subconsciously affect how you and others perceive your child.
When you understand the value of “soft skills” and different areas of intelligence, you can help your child who struggles academically or emotionally to embrace his or her God-given aptitudes while taking steps to overcome areas of weakness.
Individualism vs. Conformity
There are many ways in which none of us wants our kids to conform to what’s considered “normal.” One major benefit to a child’s learning differences can be an early realization that he or she is different. Once your child accepts that fact, he may be less likely to cave to peer pressure, out of a desire to simply “fit in.” For those who have always blended in with others, fear of the unknown territory of standing out can be a major factor in choosing conformity over doing right.
From noticeable physical disabilities to differences in learning or emotional difficulties, God can use anything to accomplish His purposes in our lives. When we have faith in that truth, we can help our kids live up to their potential as individuals, made to wonderfully reflect the image of their Creator.