Life According To Lenson
LOS ANGELES—"I thought the teachers were blindfolding the kids, giving them lollipops, putting roaches on their faces and killing them,” confided eight-year-old Darcy.
Like all children, Darcy has a creative imagination, and while no children were killed, it is clear that all is not right in the hearts and minds of the children at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. The reported horrors of exploitation and abuse rapidly unfolding have captivated the nation’s attention. Parents view their children as their dearest treasures, and make immense sacrifices to provide the best in life, including love, protection and education.
Now, many parents of the approximately 1,500 students are wondering how their innocent, defenseless and dependent children could have been betrayed by the school employees into whose care they were entrusted. They’re angry, scared and in many cases, feeling guilty that they were unable to protect them.
Not only are the children affected, but the trust and emotions of the parents have been shattered. One mother, Karina, lamented, “The administration is not telling us where they are shipping our old teachers. Some of them were good people and they were like family to us. Every teacher here today is new. We don’t feel safe just because they are new.”
Arrests of the alleged perpetrators and the dramatic action of removing all staff is a step in the right direction. But as each affected parent knows, the boundaries between this school and home have weakened. Each day is now filled with parental angst about the alleged emotional, physical and sexual abuse, wondering if their child was a victim, and worried about how this disruptive event will impact their child’s future.
These parents have good reason to be concerned. Children need to learn that the world is safe and that authority figures, such as teachers, police and firemen, are to be trusted. A child that has been abused learns that the world is not a safe place, and is at greater risk of not being able to develop trust and intimacy with others as an adult.
“What the parents would like is for the old teachers to come back and work with support from the psychologists,” said another parent, Maria. But to make it work, it is becoming increasingly clear that the parent-teacher-student culture of the entire school needs to be evaluated and repaired. As evidence, during this interview one sixth grader alleged that the former principal used to call the students in grades four through six who had not completed their homework assignments “stupid and idiots.” She had never spoken of this to her parents. It is clear that information and truth in the Miramonte Elementary School saga may flow slowly, as even the older children are reticent to report events to parents or authority.
Abuse is damaging, but does not automatically decide one’s fate. Some fears and worries expressed by children today will be mild and transient, based on the child’s developmental stage. Removing the offending teachers will likely ameliorate symptoms in others.
Children look to their parents for support and guidance. If the parents demonstrate successful coping skills, so do the children. Damage to all children can be shortened by ensuring a strong, healthy relationship with parents. Certain family dynamics enhance the long term risk factors for the children, such as families which, prior to the school abuse, exhibit social deprivation, parental separation, or chemical, physical or emotional abuse.
All children are born with a particular temperament. Some children’s biological makeups make them more vulnerable to stresses. Their sense of powerlessness can be reduced by participation in sports and success in school, as these successes increase their self esteem.
Knowing their children may have been abused by staff has made the parents victims as well. The parents need the community's empathy to regain control, and facilitation.
We can demonstrate our empathy for these parents by putting ourselves in their shoes and imagining the crisis of emotions they are experiencing.
We can help the parents regain control of their lives by showing them how to assertively influence the course of direction that takes place at school with regard to communication, inclusion and transparency. Karina suspects that a parental request for cameras in each classroom was denied “because then all the other schools would want them too, and that would be too expensive. The government has money for war, but no money for our kids. That’s wrong.” Parents need to know how to communicate their requests to authorities rather than feel victimized.
And finally, we can help these parents facilitate the conditions for resolving any ongoing concerns regarding their children’s mental health by providing sufficient counseling and education. In this large school, the children are separated into three tracks. The parents who have children in the two tracks that are not currently in the classrooms complain that they are not permitted to attend meetings and are less informed as to what is taking place.
Fortunately, there are no absolutes about children being damaged by abuse. As children grow, and move through various developmental phases, it is possible to repair much, if not all, of the damage inflicted by abuse. These children can grow into adulthood having unaffected social, sexual and interpersonal functioning.
Maria stated what is probably on every parent’s heart: “Send good people who are good teachers, not bad people who are bad teachers.”
Parents can be empowered if they know the indicators of children experiencing difficulty following an upsetting event in his or her life, so they know when to reach out for professional help. Below is a partial list of common behavioral and psychological manifestations:
Sleep problems, nightmares
Somatic complaints: (stomach and headaches)
Verbally or physically aggressive (sad kids often act mad)
Repeating abusive acts to other children or seductive
Attention seeking behavior
Guilt, humiliation, shame
Sense of being different from others
Feeling responsible for the situation in any way
Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, welcomes your comments at Eileen@LensonLifeCoaching.com, or through her website at www.LensonLifeCoaching.com.
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