It was only 1917 when Father Flanagan first said the revolutionary phase, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.” The same phrase that would set the foundation for the nonprofit Boys Town, aimed at giving boys a beacon of hope and sense of guidance when parents, relatives or role models were often absent from their lives.
Over 100 years later, Boys Town still follows the same philosophy: that there is no such thing as a bad boy, only now including girls too. Boys Town prides itself on giving youth and families the resources and tools to empower children from all walks of life. No matter their circumstance or where they came from, Boys Town is a champion for all children. Remaining steadfast in their belief that every child has the capability to succeed.
I had the opportunity to hear how this philosophy plays out first hand from the Chief Psychologist Dr. Robert Wingfield of the Boys Town DC Behavioral Health Clinic.
The Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic is a safe space for youth to unravel their behavior in hopes of addressing root causes. Many times, youth are not given a space to sort through how they’re feeling or discover why they suffer from behavior problems such as depression, anxiety, anger management or PTSD. The Behavior Health Clinic gives them that space to express themselves and most importantly, a space to learn techniques on how to overcome.
Dr. Wingfield emphasized how the Behavior Health Clinic is a place that treats an anxiety attack or a temper tantrum with the same level of urgency and attention as a cold or the flu. He is committed to using the clinic as an advocate for more mental health services for youth.
In fact, Dr. Wingfield spoke to the diverse range of patients he sees. From a 4-year old having potty training issues to a 21-year old dealing with anger management. All within a given day. For him, the most impactful part of the job is seeing the growth in his patients and how the tools he provides enables them to change the course of their life.
“Being able to see how the end of the story goes. There are times in which I’ve received emails from parents with photos documenting achievements. Kids who were about to drop out are now on the Dean’s List,” remarked Dr. Robert Wingfield.
The work of Boys Town and Dr. Robert Wingfield, embody Father Flanagan’s wish, to have a society that views youth as simply that: youth. Father Flanagan believed that there is no such thing as a bad child, there are simply bad circumstances, bad role models, and bad living situations but not bad children.
As revolutionary as Father Flanagan’s idea was in 1917, it still remains revolutionary today. As a society, we still need the gentle reminder that children are still children and are simply products of the environments in which they are raised in.
The 17-year old that dropped out of high school to sell drugs in order to pay rent, the violent 10-year-old who is the school bully or even the 6-year-old who can’t learn to go to the bathroom, all have the capacity to thrive in this world if somebody believes in them and provides them with the tools to do so.
That’s why it’s important to have champions for our children, like Boys Town. People who remain valiant in their belief that there is no such thing as a bad child.