If you have read my introductory post as well as my All about Me profile, you'll recall I stated that in addition to discussing literary matters, I will be touching on my insights as an educator and therapist. These concern life issues that are important and beneficial for all to understand.
Professionally, I have worked with youngsters in various capacities: the school system, the legal system and the mental health/social service systems. A couple of incidents, both recent and not so recent in addition to a novel I just completed reading, has served as the catalyst for the post today. Let me begin with the book review.
Boy Toy by Barry Lyga is a 409 page young adult novel that delineates the tale of Josh Mendel, a 12 year old boy who is manipulated into a sexual relationship with his teacher. The story goes back and forth from the present to the past and follows Josh as an 18 year old high school senior who still struggles with the aftermath of the affair, years later. The book depicts the sexual activity fairly graphically, but it is not gratuitously so. It is real and organic to the story and yes--it's disturbing to read as you consider that the boy is only 12 years old and suffering emotional damage from premature sexual activity.
There have been a number of highly publicized incidents involving minors and school staff. People may be prone to dismiss such occurrences because the perpetrator is a pretty female and they take a "boy's will be boy's" attitude. This book exemplifies the real damage that occurs to the child's psyche as a result of such abuse. I highly recommend reading it.
Now, on to what I have encountered on a professional level. I once worked in a middle school where I met a young woman who was a teacher's assistant. I'll call her Mary. She was a huge baseball enthusiast and came off as kind of nerdy. She was plain and mousy in appearance. She often sought me out to go to lunch or just hang out and talk.
Many of the students at the school could be quite a handful and required a great deal of structure. It was not for the faint of heart. One day, I was talking to Mary about the difficulties some of the antics of the children presented. She replied as follows: "When I tell them something, they listen to me! They do exactly what I tell them to do." I found this odd for two reasons. As I said earlier, she was a rather nerdy girl and I found it hard to believe she could exert the kind of authority necessary to get the students to comply with her directives. The second reason was the passion in which she said it. She was so adament and spoke with such conviction, it seemed out of character for her--at least the Mary that I saw on a daily basis. Time moved on and at some point, I no longer worked at that school.
One day, I was reading the newspaper and an article caught my eye. It was about a case of sexual misconduct that had happened between a student and a school employee. The picture of the alleged perpetrator looked familiar. As I scrutinized it, I realized it was Mary, in all her nerdy, geeky glory! I immediately thought of the words she said. "So this is how she got them to comply," I thought. Never in a million years, would I have thought her capable of such behavior. She looked so innocent and unassuming.
This next example involves a seven year old girl. I'll call her Susan. I was talking to her about her behavior in school and how things were going, general types of things. She suddenly began to describe interactions of a sexual nature. I didn't grasp what she said at first, because it came out of left field. I asked her to repeat what she said for clarification and she did and then some! I'm still trying to get that imagery out of my mind. That child was exposed to things some adults don't even do. How did it occur? At the hands of her mother's boyfriend. When he was supposed to be baby sitting, he was indulging in all sorts of deviant behavior with a minor. This girl is extremely damaged as a result.
What's the ramifications when a child has been sexually abused? They can start to do some pretty crazy things. Lyga's book details an incident that is true to life. I won't spoil the story. You'll have to read the book. When a child receives inappropriate sexual stimulation before they're of an age and development to handle it, it can cause them to behave in unpredictable and unsettlingly ways. Professionals like myself then have to try to repair the damage. It's not easy.
I don't want people to become paranoid, but don't assume anything. You don't really know anyone's capabilities. These two examples are just a couple of the situations I have dealt with professionally. There are others involving biological parents. Be careful who you leave your children with. Nobody expects these things to happen. Don't think it can't happen to you or someone you know. It can and does. If something doesn't feel right, look into it. Keep your radar up. You may be right. Don't dismiss your instincts. Pay attention to children's behavior. Take note of changes. If they start acting out at home and/or school and it's out of character, ask questions. Ask children on a regular basis how things are going. Ask them if they have anything they need to tell you. Let them know it's okay to talk to you. Don't become angry with the child if they tell you something you wish you didn't have to know. It's extremely rare for a child to lie about these things.
If you're a young person reading this and someone is touching or doing things to you that you're uncomfortable with, let someone know. It's not your fault. If you're afraid to tell your parent, speak to your counselor, teacher at school or another adult that you trust. It's never too late to get help.
Toodles and be blessed!
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