Will You Be My Friend?...Please!
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Will You Be My Friend?...Please!
Stephen A. Peterson
Amanda, 15, asked her friend Anita McCullough to go with her to father’s funeral. Although uncomfortable about going to funerals, Anita felt honored that a person who only knew her for five weeks would come to her to request her presence at such a special event.
Anita learned Amanda’s father died after many years of struggle with cocaine use and abuse. When they arrived at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Oklahoma City, many of Amanda’s family members were there but not her mother. No one had heard from her since Amanda was five years old. Her mother had deserted Amanda and her father for unknown reasons. Now that her father had died, Amanda was immediately placed within the custody and care of the tribe of her mother’s Native American heritage. This occurred when relatives did not come forward to provide custody for her.
“This is my best friend,” she said, when introducing Anita. Amanda smiled when she said it. Anita beamed as if she was really special in her life. Anita was surprised when she was introduced as her “best friend” to her relatives—it made feel very good and special.
Funerals are rarely occasions where happiness is expressed. Yet, sometimes as, in Amanda’s case, the sad occasion of the death of a parent brought out the best in this teenager. In Amanda’s situation, she was freed from the emotional and physical abuse heaped upon her. At last, she was made free from the misery, guilt and uncertainty that held her capture for more than ten years. Perhaps seeing her father in a casket and the finality that comes with death may have brought relief. Her father’s death and her freedom may have given her hope for her future.
Fathers and mothers who neglect, use and abuse their daughters and sons remain an anomaly to many Americans. Behavioral and social scientists research, track and test family dynamics only to conclude they really do not know much about family dynamics or the children they form. For persons born in to loving, wholesome families with rational parents to feel hopeful following the death of a parent is deemed distasteful even cruel.
Behavioral and social scientists know but many are reluctant to admit that the parent-child relationship begins at birth and, in the case of the mother, at conception. Over the past twenty years we have learned that the mother-child bond begins in utero. Infants have been found to know their mother’s voice by the second trimester as well as the music, television programs and other communicative systems their mothers are involved with. Interest in postnatal infant anxiety following the birth of a child is receiving increased interest in early child development related studies.
Given the innocence and immature response of young children and teenagers, their perspectives with respect to abuse and neglect requires understanding from those who have never lived in such an environment. Generally, abuse begins early in the lives of abused children. From their perspective, young children and teenagers assume their parents, indeed all adults, have their well-being at heart. By the same token, they view themselves as needing help, certainty and direction. If an adult physically or sexually abuses a young child or young teenager (usually 13 or 14 years old), they will generally believe it was something they did to make the adult abuse them. This mindset often remains with a person throughout their lives causing a myriad of problems personally and socially—mental health, confidence, maturity, academic performance and life-long success.
In time, due to the mass media, school and contact with friends, young children and teenagers increasingly come to realize that the abuse they have been experiencing is not proper adult behavior. But because of her or his total dependency on their parent or parents and their love of them, children and teenagers suppress or deny their parent’s abusiveness. When they finally grow up to become adults, many fail to dismiss the abusive years even with their spouse. They believe their experience too difficult to discuss or so horrible that no one would believe them if they told. Abusive parents often reinforce their cause by convincing their adult child they were indeed the cause of them having to “discipline” them (that is, they were “evil”, “strong-willed”, “unstable”, “mentally unsettled/unsettling”.
After years of repressing or denying their parent’s inappropriate behavior, teenagers, even adult children come to grips with their own inconsistent, inappropriate behavior or guilt. Healing, if it even comes at all, often takes many years and in stages. Before resolution is obtained, it is not uncommon for the person to become an abuser themselves, have multiple failed marriages, seriously hurt or have murdered someone and have suffered imprisonment.
Dealing with and helping young children and teenagers heal is a personal and individual process that defies any and everything taught by collegiate professionals and thinkers. First, we should help them develop a sense of trust in the adults/caregivers responsible for their physical and emotional care. This may take months, even years to build or work through. Building trust generally requires their adult mentors/caretakers introduce a child or teenager to the idea of viewing their world in a new and different way. That is, to teach them that good and evil exists challenging every living person in some way emotionally and socially over the course of life. The key to living through life is to learn from these experiences though painful and sometimes long. Equally valuable is to teach abused youth to know their environment, forgive, recognize the difference between conditional and unconditional love, true friendships and associations and to go on with living life NOT as a victim but as a survivor—circumstance common to all living persons.
Second, that the abusive way of life they came from is not the only way there is to live one’s life. Abusiveness has been found to occur as a result of a person having been abused at an earlier stage of life, the use and abuse of behavior altering substances, a lack of anger managing skills, selfishness, self-loathing and a belief that hedonism and the hedonistic lifestyles (drug abuse, alcoholism, unrestricted/recreational sexuality, non-committed relationships and so forth), living without boundaries, restrictions or rules.
Third, help young children and teenagers come to grips with those who have abused them, their own personalities and mistakes and whatever it is that bars them from growing mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually and spiritually. That each and every person chooses appropriate behaviors or inappropriate behaviors and their choices have consequences. These consequences are our responsibility—not someone else’s, not society.
Fourth, if possible, keep young children and teenagers in contact with their families and friends. Although it may appear the best approach, by keeping a young person, their family and friends apart is generally counterproductive. Additionally, there may be a chance for change among the young person’s associations for the better by allowing interactive/communicative contact with the young person in question. It has also been found that children and teenagers remember and want to be connected with their roots. In many instances, once they reach the age of majority they re-establish connections or return to some of the most abusive relationships imaginable!
Fifth, children and teenagers must be encouraged to cease the thought and living their lives as “victims” of abuse, poverty, discrimination, gender bias, and racism. Being a “survivor” of these human ills and forgiving themselves and all who are, or were, cruel, evil or mean to them is a must. No one but no one wants to be around a sourpuss, whiner, or one who continually is engaged in a pity-party. They must accept what is and was, change what they are able to and move on with their lives! For life is very short and eternity just around the corner!
Lastly, children and teenagers must be encouraged to know that opportunity exists for those who seek it by educating themselves (both formally and socially), dreaming, making obtainable goals and plans, and refusing to accept a notion that success and happiness is dependent upon the things that one has. Adults are able to help the young by presenting positive goals and plans they can shoot for in the years ahead of them. Every child or teenager wants to be somebody and to succeed. By presenting possibilities and what it takes to attain them are reasonable and very motivating.
Whether an adult has a college education or not, every adult person has something to offer a child or teenager if it only but to listen to them, encourage them and pray for them to let them know in your eyes they are valuable and important!!!!
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