How Young Is Too Young For Students To Discuss Sexual Orientation

istock_000009080325large-gay-pride-2009-news1Here in central Florida there has been an ongoing debate about how young is too young for students to discuss sexual orientation at school, especially when that orientation is different than the perceived norm.

Bayli Silberstein, a student leader at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Florida wants to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at her school to combat ongoing bullying. “The bullying at our school has gotten out of hand, and somebody needs to do something about it,” stated Bayli.

While to me this sounds like something positive and something that should have been supported, the principal immediately shot it down and county administration put up a resistance so tough that they threatened to disband all groups if they had to in order to keep the GSA from being allowed to form.

They are taking so long to deliberate on allowing the GSA to form, while groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an explicitly Christian organization, has been supported for years.

The fact that the administrative body is taking so long to deliberate on letting the GSA form, to me is even further evidence that groups like the GSA are needed. If the kids who are in need of support don’t feel supported by the very administration that is supposed to support and protect them, how are they supposed to feel supported and protected among their own student body?

Under the Equal Access Act, schools can not pick and choose which groups to allow to form on campus based on what they think students should and should not discuss:

 “schools may not pick and choose among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss. If a public school allows any student group whose purpose is not directly related to the school’s curriculum to meet on school grounds during lunch or before or after school, then it cannot deny other student groups the same access to the school because of the content of their proposed discussions. The Act specifically provides that a school cannot deny equal access to student clubs because of the ‘religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.’” 

GSAs are student organizations that are made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and their straight allies. The groups purpose is to advocate against bullying, discrimination and harassment.

Theyare made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, along with straight supporters, who advocate for putting an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT and other students.

According to a  2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education network,  “84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.”

A lot of the bullying that goes on against LGBT students have Christian beliefs and teachings at it’s source and Christian groups are almost always very supported on school campuses.

Here in Florida, the ACLU has been successful numerous times over the years in helping students form GSAs on school campuses.

For example, in 2008 in Okeechobee, Florida,  a  judge ruled that schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA. The ACLU of Florida also succeeded in helping students at Booker T. Washington High School form a GSA after initial efforts were fought against by the administration.

At the high school I work at there is no GSA or LGBT clubs and it’s not because administration hasn’t allowed it, but because students haven’t attempted to form one. I think this is largely because sexual orientation is not discussed, yet admittedly, it appears to be pretty accepted on campus. Many of the LGBT students I talk to are “out” and have never told me they felt uncomfortable or bullied on campus.

While working on this post, I spoke with a 15 year old, openly gay student who says he knew he was gay in elementary school, but only really knew in middle school. He personally thought that having a GSA in middle school was too soon because he thought too many people were still unsure of their sexuality, but he also admitted that having a GSA in his middle school would have helped him with issues such as bullying and coming out to his family.

On other school campuses and in middle school in particular, being a LGBT student is likely much more difficult for several reasons.

Often times, school administration and school board members are not comfortable with the thought of students discussing sexual orientation. They are also often uncomfortable with discussing acceptance and respect for students of different orientations.

However, discussing topics that are uncomfortable, out in the open, is how change gets started, not by censoring students to avoid discomfort. That’s how the culture of secrecy and bullying is allowed to flourish.

Childhood PTSD AND Trauma: Part 1

BW portrait of sad crying little boy covers his face with handsImagine a four-year-old child found covered in blood, lying over her mother’s naked, dead body, whimpering incoherently. She’s witnessed her mother being raped and murdered, and her own throat had been cut, twice in an attempt to leave behind no witnesses. She’s alone with her mother for approximately eleven hours before she is discovered.

After being hospitalized she is released as a ward of the state and put into foster care with no follow up treatment for the trauma she experienced.

How will she go on through life with those images etched in her mind? How will she survive psychologically? How will her mind protect her from such traumatic experiences?

This story is unfortunately a very true story, one of several stories of childhood trauma that can be found in the book, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavaitz.

Tragedies like this occur across our nation and the world everyday, leaving behind sometimes physical, but always emotional and psychological scars.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that 30 or so years ago was reserved only for soldiers who had experienced traumatic events at war. It was later recognized that rape survivors, people who had been through terrible accidents or natural disaster, also exhibited symptoms of PTSD including flashback, hyper-vigilance and avoidance behaviors.

When it came to children however, the mental health and medical fields were slow to realize the impact of trauma on their lives.

Children were thought to be naturally resilient and would “bounce back” without the aid of any type of support or treatment. Those same children who had experienced trauma would often later develop psychiatric problems, depression and attention issues that would sometimes led to medication.

We know  now that children who have live through tragedies, are just as affected as adults, perhaps even more so. This is evident in the great way the mental health community around the nation responded to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD can occur in anyone who has lived through an event in which they could have been killed or severely hurt or where they witnessed someone else getting killed or severely hurt. These can include violent crimes, physical or sexual abuse, someone close to them committing suicide, car crashes, shootings, war and natural disasters just to name a few.

Approximately 40% of children by the age of 18 will experience a traumatic event, which includes the loss of a parent or sibling and domestic violence. In the United States, child protective services receives an estimated 3 million reports of abuse and neglect yearly, involving approximately 5.5 million kids. About 30% of all those cases show proof of abuse:

  • 65% neglect
  • 18% physical abuse
  • 10% sexual abuse
  • 7% psychological (mental) abuse

This of course doesn’t include the estimate 66% of child abuse cases that are never reported.

The Likely Hood Of PTSD Developing

Girls are more likely than boys to develop PTSD symptoms. Approximately 3-15% of girls and 1-6% of boys who experience a trauma will develop PTSD. The chances of developing PTSD are higher depending on the type of trauma experienced. Some of the risk factors for PTSD include:

  • How severe the trauma was
  • How the parents react to the trauma
  • How close or far away that child is from the trauma

Of course children who go through the most severe traumas have the highest level and severity of PTSD symptoms. Incidents where people are hurting other people such as assault and rape, tend to result in PTSD more frequently. Children who have healthy support systems tend to have less severe symptoms.

The age of the child during the traumatic experience doesn’t seem to effect rather PTSD symptoms will develop, however PTSD looks different in children of different ages.

What Does PTSD Look Like In Children Ages 5-12?

  • children may not have flashbacks or problems remembering parts of the trauma like adults with PTSD often do.
  • Children might, however put the events of the trauma in the wrong order.
  • They might also think there were signs that the trauma was going to happen and thus they think that they will see these signs again before another trauma happens.
  • They think that if they pay attention, they can avoid future traumas which can lead to hyper-vigilance.

Children around this age may also show signs of PTSD during their play. They may keep reenacting part of the trauma. For instance, a child who has seen a shooting may want to play video games involving shootings or carry a gun to school.

Teens (ages 12-18)

In teens, some of the PTSD symptoms may be similar to those of adults including flashbacks, reoccurring nightmares about the event, hyper-vigilance and exaggerated startle responses. Teens are more likely than children or adults to show aggressive and impulsive behavior.

What are the other effects of trauma on children?

Other effects of trauma on children from PTSD comes from research done with children who have been through sexual abuse. They include:

  • fear
  • worry
  • sadness
  • anger
  • feeling alone and apart from others
  • feeling as if people are looking down on them
  • low self-worth
  • not being able to trust others
  • undesired behaviors such as aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol

For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years and possibly a lifetime  if they do not get treatment.

How Is PTSD Treated In Children?

For some children, the symptoms of PTSD will go away on their own with healthy supports and when they aren’t being re-traumatized by anxious parents or the media. For others, they may need professional help including:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychological first aid/crisis management
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Play therapy
  • Special treatments may be necessary for children who show out-of-place sexual behaviors, extreme behavior problems, or problems with drugs or alcohol.

What Can You Do To Help?

Educated yourself on PTSD and pay attention to your child for signs such as anger, avoidance of certain places and people, problems with friends, academic changes and sleep problems. If you need professional help, find a therapist in your area that treats PTSD and that your child feels comfortable with.  Where to Get Help .

 

Sources: The National Center for PTSD

Preteen Sex: Do We Really Need To Have This Conversation?

A lot of times we like to think that sexual activity and behavior doesn’t become a topic for discussion until kids reach their teenage years.

As a matter of fact, I found it frustratingly difficult while doing research on this topic, to find good scholarly information, demonstrating the lack of attention this topic receives.

However, from personal experience as a counselor, I know that preteens as early as 9 years of age are engaging in sexual or precursors to sexual behavior in ways that either often go unnoticed or are overlooked as normal play and socialization.

Preteens at times can be just as curious to what it means to be in a relationship, mature, or desired, as their older peers.

They are often exposed to a host of sexual behaviors either through watching their parents, older siblings, older teens or of course, the media and unfortunately, sexual molestation, usually at the hands of a family member, older teen or adult.

They are often curious about themselves and each other, especially the opposite sex. They often sit, fondle or cuddle in ways that may seem harmless, but are at times precursors to future sexual behaviors.

A lot of preteens I’ve worked with are already “making out” with boys and sexting, two very good predictors to early sexual activity. I’ve met preteens that have already voluntarily engaged in oral and even vaginal sex by the time they were 12 years of age.

Early dating, overly strict parenting as well as lack of parenting are all predictors of early sexual behavior.

Here’s another tip: preteen girls who have a lot of male friends are more likely to be exposed to drugs and alcohol and are much more likely to engage in sexual behaviors.

Also, men 18 and over are responsible for 50% of the babies born to girls 17 and under.

Sure many of these teens grow up in unstable houses, have poor self esteem and are looking for acceptance when they stumble into the world of sexual behavior, but many of them also are just curious, precocious children that have no clue what they are really doing.

Preteens, just like teens, are much more likely to not use any type of sexual protection, so they are at higher risks of being exposed to STDs and pregnancy.

Yes, some preteens can get pregnant. Puberty can happen as early as 9 in “normal” girls and as early as 6 in girls born with abnormalities that cause them to go through puberty extremely early.  In my research, girls as young as 6, 7, 8 and 9 have given birth to children, usually after being molested by a family member.

Parents of preteens and teens need to be proactive and honest with their children about sex. Educate your child and take the mystery out of sex, puberty and love.

Having this sort of talk with your preteen may be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have this educational, proactive talk now than to have it when it’s a little too late and you discover that your child is either pregnant, has an STD or is engaged in sexual behavior, much earlier than you ever expected.

Try to be the type of parent that gives your children all the answers they could ever ask, as detailed and as often as needed, so that they will always get the best advice (at least as much as you have educated yourself) and they don’t have to learn it from their peers or by making huge mistakes.

No parent is perfect, and neither is either child, but through communication you’ll be more likely to help your child make wise and healthy decisions today and for the rest of their lives.

 

The Cycle of Violence, Power and Control

ImageWorking as a counselor in a high school, I am surprised at the amount of abuse many young girls I work with have gone through. Not to mention the sexual, physical and psychological abuse many of them went through growing up, but how much of that has affected them now as teenagers.

A surprising amount of young ladies in high school, and perhaps even in middle school are involved in physically abusive relationships. Having dealt with many of these young ladies, I’ve recognized that many of them believe that if a guy doesn’t hit or get physically rough with them, then “he doesn’t really love me”. This may not make any sense to most people, but a lot of these young ladies have grown up in homes where the people who “love” them, especially the men in their lives, are often the same people who abuse them, so many of these young ladies have subconsciously equated love with violence, manipulation and fear. Also, since many of the people who these women look to for protection, they also equate physical violence with a guys ability to protect them, even if it’s the guy himself they need protecting from.

I’ve had young ladies tell me that they would break up with a guy if he didn’t hit or push her when she got “out of line” because they believed they needed a man who was strong enough to keep them “in line”. They would say, “Sometimes I get get out of control, get a smart mouth and act a fool. I need someone who can put me in my place.” In most cases, these young women grew up in families where men (their fathers’, mother’s boyfriends, uncles, older brothers, etc.) physically, sexually and/or psychologically abused them.

Earlier this year I was walking through the halls of the high school I work at and heard yelling and shouting. I turned the corner and saw a boy attacking a girl. I quickly got between them and he was enraged, evening threatening me, but I didn’t care, I was more concerned about the young lady he was attacking. He quickly told me that it was none of my business and that was his girlfriend. I stayed between them waiting for assistance and then he walked away. I asked the young lady if she was okay, and shew as crying, but said she was okay and she was tired of him hitting on her. I tried to talk to her, but then he yelled for her to come with him and to my surprise she left and went with him. I tried to stop her, and by the time other teachers and security came they had walked off campus. I was so upset with the whole situation that it took me a few days to get it out of my mind. I never got the young lady’s name or I would have called her in and offered her counseling in hopes that with knowledge and empowerment she would leave that unhealthy relationship for a better one.

Also in college I dated a girl who had been physically abused by her father to the point that she was removed from her home. Ever since then and up until we met, every guy she dated physically abused her and I mean beat her like she meant nothing to them, leaving her with bruises and bloodied lips. She never learned how to separate love from abuse once it had forged together in her head.

I find this to be very sad and dangerous and is one of the issues I work extremely hard to correct because these young ladies are putting themselves in extremely dangerous situations that if not corrected will effect them for the rest of their lives along with any children they have. Girls who grow up witnessing violence, even if it is just heard or sensed (through tension, visual cues) are more likely to date guys who will put their hands on them and boys who grow up in that same situation are more likely to think it’s okay to put their hands on women they claim to love.

It’s extremely important that if you are the victim of abuse that you get help. Check out http://www.thehotline.org or any other resources in your area. Look at the Cycle of Violence and the Power of Control wheels below. It doesn’t get better, only repeats and gets worse.

Looking at the Five Stages of Grief in Our Daily Lives

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the five stages of grief theory after her work with terminally ill patients. It is a widely used theory used to explain what happens when people are coping with dying and now is even used outside of death to include any experience of loss including divorce, separation and bereavement.  The five stages are:

  1. Denial- “I am fine”
  2. Anger- “Why me! It’s not fair!”
  3. Bargaining- “I’ll do anything for a few more years!” “I promise to go to church everyday!”
  4. Depression- “I’m dying, what’s the point of trying to be happy?”
  5. Acceptance- “I can’t fight it. It’s happening. I might as well be prepared for it the best way I can.”

People often go through these stages in different orders and sometimes from one to the other and back again. For example, someone can be in acceptance and go back to bargaining, or go from denial to depression while skipping anger and bargaining. While this theory has most widely been studied and accepted in dealing with the dying and grieving, in my experience, I’ve notice that it seems to apply outside of these populations.

The Five Stages of Grief Outside of The Grieving Population

  • Substance Abuse

In working with substance abuse users, they often times also experience the five stages of grief. There is a period of denial that there is a problem, anger that there may be a problem, pleading with themselves or a higher power to take away the problem, a period of depression as the reality of the problem starts to set in and then acceptance eventually sets in, more so in those seeking treatment compared to those who do not seek help and seem to remain in the denial stage. Even family members of substance abusers tend to go through the stages of grief in dealing with the family member who is abusing substances.

  • Loss of a Relationship/Affair
Often times the unseen or unwanted end of a relationship sends someone through the five stages of grief. The same sometimes happens when an affair is discovered or sensed. The person first is in denial and then as further evidence is discovered, the person becomes angry and then bargains with themselves, the other person, the universe or whoever for this not to be happening, and then they usually fall into a depression and then eventually acceptance which allows them to try to deal with the reality of the situation in a healthy way.
  • Sexual Abuse
 In cases of sexual abuse, families often go through the five stages of grief. Sometimes it’s a mother who goes through the stages when confronted with evidence or suspicion that one of her kids is being molested by a new boyfriend. Recently I started working with a young girl who was sexually abused by her uncle, who had recently gotten out of prison for sexually assaulting a minor,  but still no one in her family believed her until a year later when her younger sister became pregnant with her uncle’s baby. That tragedy could have been avoided if the family would have not stayed in the denial stage for so long in realizing that her uncle was a sexual predator.
  • Mental Illness
I wrote in a previous post about parents denial of their child’s mental illness. From my experience, parents often go through the five stages of grief when it comes to facing the fact that their child has certain challenges such as ADHD, anxiety or mood disorders or even more severe issues. Mentally ill individuals also sometimes go through the fives stages of grief, not wanting to admit or accept that they may have a depressive disorder, an anger problem, or whatever it may be. This is what usually keeps them from seeking help for years until they finally reach the acceptance stage.
  • Everyday Life
I know there are many other times and situations in which the five stages of grief can be applied, but the ones I named above are the ones I seem to deal with the most. How have the five stages of grief showed up in your life? Have you been diagnosed with an illness and went through a period of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance? I know when I was diagnosed with type II diabetes I went through the five stages of grief and it was only when I reached the acceptance stage that I was able to actively take control of my life.