Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I write for troubled teens

The email said, “...I love your troubled-kid books. I find them so reflective of the kids I work with. I definitely think this genre is your forte. Two thumbs up!”

to sample/buy

That got me thinking about why I write for troubled kids. I don’t have a strong real-life connection to children-at-risk. I was a well-behaved child and never had to bail any of my own kids out of jail.

I do remember, though, that being a kid was tough. At the age of 6, I was thrown in with forty other 6-year-olds and none of us had any social skills. By the very nature of our brain development, we were self-centred, self-serving, and possessed little compassion and understanding for others.

Whereas those in more primitive cultures socialize their youngsters within the confines of the family or tribal unit, in my culture I was abruptly torn from the family home and thrown into an institution full of total strangers—adults and children—all with different customs, expectations, manners, and life experiences.

The family home, with all whom I knew and loved, was a 90 minute bus ride away from the school. At merely 6-years old, I was the victim of culture shock and I experienced it alone and unaided.

I loved the learning part of school life, but flunked miserably in the social skills department. Perhaps if technology and communication and opportunity had been back then what it is today, perhaps I would’ve been a “child-a-risk”. As it was, I didn’t have much opportunity to do anything but cry inside and go home—only to return to the frightening classroom the next day.

Parents and guardians, please ensure you are not expecting your youngsters to face adult situations or situations that adults wouldn’t be able to handle. (Would you go to work if the guy at the next desk thumped you over the head each day and stole your lunch? If the secretary constantly told you that you stank? If nobody would sit with you at coffee break?) As adults we have many more skills and resources to call upon to deal with such awkward and demeaning social situations, yet we would wither under such daily stresses.

I share some of the background of children-at-risk. I experienced child abuse, including sexual abuse. This abuse left me scarred but strong. The betrayal, pain, and anxiety made me who I am. In fact, my quest to find the words to identify and understand what was happening to me was the catalyst behind both my desire to read and my compulsion to write.

There were many who could have stepped in to end my abuse, but nobody did. Back then there was no kids’ help line, no protocol for professionals to report suspicions, no education for either adults or children on abuse. Abuse was a secret-something that happened in dark and isolated homes—homes that society viewed as the private, unapproachable castles of the adults who lived there.

It is my hope that all cases of child abuse (which is often a precursor of risky adolescent behaviour) will be identified and stopped. I hope that adults become educated and brave enough to report it. I hope the social experts and the judicial system know enough to stop it, or better yet, prevent it. I hope abused children find their voice and cry—out loud—for help.

 It is my hope that children’s lack of social skills (another precursor of misbehaviour) is addressed at all levels of society. May parents teach their children to empathize, sympathize, understand, and accept. May educators teach children team work; respect each student’s individuality and customs; and enjoy the differences expressed by each child. May entire communities strive to be inclusive and provide activities, teams, sports, arts, music, dance, and other challenging opportunities that youngsters need to develop into caring and productive adults. Let’s give them exciting alternatives to playing hide-and-seek with the cops and their parole officers.

May everyone, in the entire world, protect our children—keep them warm and fed and far away from danger. May all adults keen on using or abusing youngsters, be barred from our communities.

A South Korean classrom and me

May we work at making all children smile.

May we strive to hear all children laugh.

That would indeed be a joyous world in which to live.

Eileen Schuh, Canadian Author
Schrödinger's Cat

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