Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 01/21/2011

Lots of bees in this bonnet….

Every once in awhile I read something that “puts a bee in my bonnet” as my grandmother used to say.

About twice a week I get an email from a school in Texas that works with struggling teens.  It is a short eight or nine sentence blurb about some aspect of raising the thirteen to nineteen set.  To be fair, some of them have been helpful, given me a different perspective.  And some of them — not so much. When you are in the midst of a tsunami with a teenager eight sentences couldn’t even begin to handle it.  A Valium drip might take the edge off.  But no combination of words can do much when the adult in sensible shoes and the kid in flip flops dig their heels in.  At that point,  the adult has hair standing on end, teeth gritted, is maroon in the face, has a dangerously accelerated heart rate, hives and is in need of a brown paper bag to balance the hyperventilation. The teen, in sharp contrast is laid back, resting pulse barely enough to sustain life, with an occasional eye roll and glazed look that says, “I’m physically present but I am taking in none of what you are saying.” Just enough to bring out the heretofore latent homicidal inclination in even the most docile parent.

But this email?  There was a whole hive in my bonnet.  Enough honey to keep every Kindergarten class in peanut butter and honey sandwiches for the rest of the decade.

The subject was “Scared Straight”.  The concept that unruly kids, brought before real felons could learn a lot about what prison is like.  The email suggested that a visit to a cancer ward might be helpful to a teen that thinks lighting up is cool.  Or visiting a slum “to see what failure at school can lead to….” and visiting a courtroom where kids are being charged and sentenced.

Completely offensive.  So we drag the teen that we have lost complete control of and use someone else’s bad break as the example of how not to behave by using someone else’s life circumstances?   Is the cancer ward of a hospital a zoo?  Make it a field trip, gawking and tsk-tsking about the poor life choices the patients made? Where’s the compassion?  And has anyone considered that HIPPA regulations would make this “outing” impossible anyway???

I’ve walked the hallways of the Topeka Juvenile Facility when I took a continuing education class to keep up my teaching certificate.  Most of those kids didn’t come from a slum and to suggest that is so is just irresponsible.  They came from turmoil and they came from what any of us would call “good” homes.  They had parents whose income was in the high six figures and those whose address was a homeless shelter.  The circumstances that got these kids behind bars are complicated. Way more complicated than the wrong address.  The reasons kids drop out of school are complicated too.  There are a whole series of missteps that come before a kid just throws in the towel and decides school just isn’t worth the price of admission. There was maybe a teacher that could have, and didn’t connect with her student.  There were the peers who made fun of, laughed at him/her, that made it hard for that kid to find the emotional safety that is crucial to optimal learning.

Most of life isn’t simplistic.  And I think easy answers and quick fixes are condescending and insult the intelligence of all of us.



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