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Archive for the ‘Cutting’ Category

This past week, I had two days of consecutive conversations with teenagers who were trying to navigate the baggage they had inherited from getting involved sexually at too young an age. It is one of my biggest frustrations that no one (or maybe not enough people) seems to be talking to these kids honestly about the choices they’re making, so that by the time they get to me, it is often too late.

The first instance was a young lady who came in to see me because she has sought my advice before. Just that Friday, she had come by at the football game and discussed a relationship with a guy. Knowing the guy she was “talking to,” I had warned her as explicitly as I could without telling his business. She assured me that they weren’t dating, but were “friends with benefits.” I explained to her that was worse. “Why?” she asked me, “What’s wrong with that?” I explained to her that being “friends with benefits” meant that she was willing to give herself away without any type of commitment on his part. She was completely devaluing herself. She agreed I was right, and shortly after, went away…

Tuesday, she came in to tell me “things had happened,” and now everyone knew about it and was calling her names, and she might have a disease–an incurable one. “I should have listened to you.” she said, “But, he promised me he was a virgin…” Of course he did. The whole school had heard rumors of everyone this guy’s been with. But, she believed him. And it may have affected the rest of her life.

We discussed how she couldn’t change the past, but she could learn from this. I explained that the most valuable lesson she could learn is to value herself–that her value doesn’t come from a beauty pageant or from an older guy paying attention to her–it is simply because of who she is. I gave her a hug, and she left.

The next day, the second girl came in. She came to talk to me because I had seen the scars on her arm from cutting. She explained that she was doing it because it made her ex-boyfriend pay attention to her. I asked her if she really wanted a relationship with someone who was only in it because he felt sorry for her. She said, “I don’t care why he’s with me, just so long as he is…” The back story on this girl is that she had given this guy her virginity because he kept bugging her. She finally said, “If I let you, will you shut up?” My heart broke when she’d told me that. I explained to her that the reason she felt so attached to this guy is that she had given him her virginity–that that act creates a powerful bond between people, and that’s why it is not to be given thoughtlessly. I explained to her that she needed her heart to be healed and that bond broken.

Two lives devastated by choices. I realize talking about sex is an awkward conversation to have. I also realize that everyone has to make the decision of when and if they are going to have sex, and that THEY have to make that decision. My challenge though–to parents, to teachers, and to adults who have conversations with young people is this: No one says, “I wish I’d been a bigger slut in high school.” But plenty of people say, “I wish I’d waited longer.” Please be honest with kids. Counsel them on the consequences of the choices they make. When appropriate, share your own experiences–even if they include regrets. It’s far easier to be awkward for a little bit than to pick up the pieces after the fact.

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Today, I had an opportunity that is far too rare in my experience. The story actually began Tuesday before break. I had two parents come in to meet with me. Their daughter had come to me in August about her habit of cutting and how her parents were trying to get her help. We had discussed the reasons she was cutting and the positive ways to deal with her emotions instead of cutting. I hadn’t really talked to her about it since. Her parents, however, started calling the school. Apparently, they had been trying to figure out who had been talking to their daughter. My name came up, so Tuesday, they came to talk to me.

In our meeting Tuesday, they had expressed their concerns for their daughter. They were hoping to understand what was causing her to cut and how to help her. I was deeply touched by their brokenness and loving concern for their daughter. I can’t imagine the humility it took for them to come to the school (the mom doesn’t speak English) and ask for help. I offered then to meet with them as a family and discuss the strategies to move forward. They gratefully accepted, and we set the meeting for today.

It was a complete surprise to the girl (not the way I would recommend, but how they chose to deal with it.) I set the ground rules of being honest, then asked the girl a series of questions about what the “triggers” for her cutting were. She explained the yelling in her house was a cause. I asked her dad about raising his voice. He explained that he had grown up in another country, very isolated, with little education. “I didn’t have experience in social situations. I don’t know how to communicate well.” I applauded him for his courage to come and admit he didn’t know and ask for help. We discussed ways to “slow down a discussion” and keep yourself calm. He and his wife were able to share with their daughter the things she does that trigger their anger, so we could talk through what each party needed from the other.

While I am not arrogant enough to think we solved everything in an hour, I think we made definite progress in each member of this family learning to communicate honestly and positively what they need from the other. I walked away from the meeting with a deep sense of gratitude for a set of parents who had the willingness to say, “My child is having problems, and I need help to know how to handle them.” I think so many parents have ignored the adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” and have seen the school as an enemy they have to fight instead of an ally with which to stand. I wish more parents were willing to ask for help–even just to find out they’re not alone in the struggle they face. It takes both humility and courage, but it can save a child’s future set the course for strong relationships in the future.

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Today, a student dropped by during my plan. I had seen her yesterday with her friends, and she mentioned she wanted to see me, so I told her to stop by. I knew it was going to be a serious conversation–the guidance counsellor had already asked me if I knew anything that was going on with her.

She came in and after a bit of small talk, the big confession came out. She had cut this summer. No one knew about the first time, but the second, she got scared because the bleeding didn’t stop. When she finished telling me the story, she explained that her mom had freaked out, called the school, and tried shoving religion down her throat (She’s not really religious.) I explained to her that people turn to faith in times of crisis because it is only through faith that pain has purpose. If evolution is true, and everything is an accident, there is no reason to continue to fight against pain. It is only when we understand that there is a God and an afterlife that suffering has meaning.

I next explained that most people cut because they can’t handle emotional pain, so they try to bring their pain into an arena that they CAN handle–the physical. I asked her if that was the case with her. She nodded. (She was crying at the time.) She said, “My parents taught me to be tough and not show my emotions. When you stuff emotions for so long…it’s not good. They told me it’s weak to cry.”

I responded, “That’s bull. Sometimes it takes a lot of strength to cry because it’s allowing you to be vulnerable. Plus this (I indicated the tears running down her cheeks) That’s cleansing–that’s how you get those emotions out. Then, you can deal with them.”

I went on to ask about her home life. She explained that her parents yell at her over little things, and they used to hit her (but don’t now). She said she really struggles with anger. I explained that anger is either fear or hurt feelings–you have to figure out which one you’re dealing with so you can handle the real issue. I also explained that I was going to ask her to do something hard–forgive her family. I explained that forgiveness does not mean the person who hurt you was right–what they did was wrong. But, forgiving them takes control of you away from them. It allows the situation to quit hurting you.

I also explained to her that your blood is life–when you spill it for something, you’re giving power to that thing. Instead of making the situation better, you’re actually making it have more control over you (She’s Aztec, so she understands the meaning of blood sacrifices.) I explained that she needed to break those things over her life instead of giving more power to them.

Finally, I asked her if she had options of places to go when things at her home weren’t going well–she had to think, so I gave her that assignment–to develop a network of support for herself. Then, I gave her a hug and a Kleenex and the bell rang. Once again, I am reminded that though I can’t change the situation these kids deal with, I can give them the tools to survive–and I can show them they are not alone. Someone cares about them. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.

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