Leading Students From Difficult Homes

Josh_Isenhardt-WebI asked Josh Isenhardt, one of our Growing Leaders speakers, to blog on what it means to influence students who may come from difficult homes. Josh has worked with students for over a decade and has some simple but profound insight on the issue. Below are his wise and helpful words on this topic. I hope you enjoy them:

As someone who has worked with students for more than a decade, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with parents. There is nothing nicer than partnering with great parents in the crafting of an incredible young leader. But there are few things more frustrating than pouring into a student over a season, only to have all the hard work appear to be undone by a destructive parent relationship.

However, I’ve found that whether a student has stellar parents or struggling ones, my role in his/her life doesn’t really need to change. And usually when it does, it means I’ve stepped out-of-bounds and end up doing more harm than good.

Understanding our role is crucial to maintaining a seat of influence, regardless of what is happening at home.

What we are NOT:

A Substitute: When a young person enters into our lives from a home in which the parenting style is obviously damaging and destructive, our tendency can be to try to step in as a substitute for their parents. The problem is, we usually don’t have as much time, influence or positional authority. Even struggling or abusive parents still get more hours with their children and hold an immensely influential seat in their hearts and minds. To attempt to fill the shoes of a person’s parents without the official role usually results in frustration for everybody.

photo credit: Lafayette College via photopin cc

photo credit: Lafayette College via photopin cc

A Critic: Pointing out problems is easy and can be satisfying, but generating solutions is difficult, complicated, and almost always outside of our power. We generate nothing positive with our comments but often do damage to whatever good might be happening in the home. Plus, we run the risk of being alienated when he/she is in a good place with his/her parents again.

What we ARE:

A Different Voice: As leaders of this emerging generation, we have the honor of speaking into their lives. For great parents, we are air support and a reinforcement of good ideas. For students in difficult situations at home, we get to deliver an alternate way of looking at the world. Make your voice one that speaks truth with encouragement, challenge with acceptance.

A New Environment: Though students will spend far more time in their homes and with their parents, we have the privilege of creating a space for them that crafts their character and identity as well. We all have had places outside of our homes that were very special to us, not because of what we did there, but because of how they made us feel. When we create safe and empowering environments, they can act as a lighthouse and an anchor when things are rocky or uncertain.

A Good Example: When we are willing to live our lives in front of others and grant access to who we are on a daily basis, we give those we lead an opportunity to see a different way of being. Whether our example conflicts with a student’s family or reinforces it, our actions reach into places that our words simply cannot go. Remember, students don’t need a perfect example, but they do need a living example.

Leading students that come from difficult homes is an uphill battle for sure, but the voice, environment, and example that we bring can make all the difference in the world.

Interested in having Josh speak at your event? Contact Chloe Lufkin in our office, at: [email protected]



Want to learn from Mark Richt & Charlie Ward on how to mentor today’s students? Join us at our 2014 National Leadership Forum in June. They’ll tell stories and share truths they’ve picked up, as both of them have been mentored by a coach and are now returning that favor to student athletes today. You’re invited to attend and hear them at our Forum, this June, in Atlanta.




Leading Students From Difficult Homes