This is the fourth day of a series entitle “Broken Hearted”. If you missed the first 3 days, you can catch up by clicking the link. My heart broke teaching teen and elementary-aged girls strategies to avert child predators should they make advances into their young lives. On this particular day the students were to draw an oval in the middle of a piece of letter-sized paper and make a frame out of 1 – 2-inch bits of brown yarn by gluing the piles of cut yarn to the paper to look like a frame made out of twigs.
Once the yarn frame was completed each girl was to draw people they could trust into the frame. This was someone they could tell if someone were making advance on them that made them feel uncomfortable. The teachers talked to them about situations in which that could occur and how feelings that something is not right need to be heeded shared with a trusted adult they believe can help them.
The girls worked for the better part of a half hour. At one point, the teacher noted that one 11-year-old had no one in the center of her picture. She was asked who she was going to put there. She said, “I have no one to put there. There is no one I know who would believe me. Everything I do is wrong in my home. My step-mother never has anything good to say. I am new here so I have no friends.” Much to my shock the teacher said, “It’s ok if you have no one. Sometimes that is the case.” Really?
Everyone else had figures drawn into her circles and they were asked to share who was in their frames if they wanted to do so. Another 11-year-old had 3 people drawn in her oval. She explained, “These are my imaginary friends. I talk to them when I have problems.” There was no real person she could talk to so she made up a group. The teacher said, “How creative!”
Those of us who were activity leaders waited for a good debriefing of this HUGE elephant in the room, but it was not addressed. Rather, the teacher and administrator turned to us and said, “I think it would be a good time to transition to games now.” I was beyond mortified! Young people without anyone to talk to are the very ones traffickers choose and groom!
I took the girls to make butterfly wings. While painting fabric, we talked. Each girl was told they could call one of the leaders if they ever got themselves in a situation where they needed to call someone for help. The other activities leader made a list of leader phone numbers and they were posted in the cover of each of the girls’ journals. The one young woman who was leading games is working on her Master’s degree in Psychology. She said imaginary friends at this age could be the beginning of a dissociative disorder. Certainly the girl with no one in her oval frame is at high risk for any number of unhealthy situations. Feeling like one does “not belong” is the number one reason kids get into trouble. My doctoral dissertation was entitled “Intimacy as a Lived Experience of Health”. If children cannot name one person who cares if they live or die, they form alliances in very unhealthy ways: through gangs, traffickers, pedophiles, youth armies and crime rings. Love and belonging are fundamental needs. There is always a manipulative person willing to offer them a cheap substitute–for a price.
My heart was broken. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17 I know this is a bit of a twist on what this verse intends, but it speaks to me this morning about the sacrifice involved in giving oneself up for others.
The end – tomorrow.