“All Rise. . .”

They knew this was for real when they saw the guards with guns and the inmates chained together, and they were stunned into silence.

We’d prepped our 8th graders pretty thoroughly for our field trip to the county courthouse, so they understood the need to be serious and respectful.  When Judge Jasprica introduced herself to them as “the real Judge Judy – not the one on TV,” they weren’t even sure if they could laugh.

We also had the privilege of witnessing one of Judge Steiner’s last days on the bench before his retirement.  Having heard him preside over “drug court” on previous field trips, I knew he would directly address our students, and perhaps have the people appearing before him address the students, too.

As we filed into the galley, we saw a young woman with her back to us, huddled over paperwork with her attorney.  Judge Steiner asked her permission for us to listen in and then had her introduce herself.  Her name was Sarah, she was 22 years old, and she’d been using meth since she was 13 or 14.  The court was working with her to help her regain custody of her young daughter, who was currently being raised by grandparents.

Last fall Sarah had been sent to Spokane for in-patient drug rehab in lieu of going to jail.  On the way there, she and her boyfriend had done meth on the bus, and she’d arrived at the treatment center already high.  She was still allowed into the program, but she chose to leave after 38 days.  Since she was no longer in a program, the judge now had the right to send her to jail.  When he asked her why she’d left treatment, she said she was homesick and wanted to come back.  After questioning her on her commitment to stay clean so she could have her daughter back, the judge chose to allow her to try outpatient treatment instead of going to jail.

Once back at school, I asked the students what they thought of Sarah.   “I don’t think she’s ready to give up meth, even for her daughter,” said one student, a sentiment echoed by several during our discussion.  A few students felt the judge should have just sent her to jail.   They all admitted they were shocked when she turned around to face us:  “She looked way older than 22!”  Some of them commented on the telltale sores around her mouth, recognizing it as a sign of meth use.  Not one of them felt she’d appreciated the grace she’d been given, and someone suggested we should pray that she would have a change of heart and be able to give up doing drugs.

Not only was the field trip a chance for career-building opportunities, it was also a valuable lesson in the real-life consequences of drug addiction.  While I was proud of the students’ behavior at the courthouse and their interest in everything they encountered, I was most impressed by their insightful perceptions of a meth addict.  I hope that lesson stays with them.

That’s What She Said

“I never knew sexual harassment meant what boys say and not just what they do.” 

That was the comment near the end of my girls’ 8th grade health class today.  It brought home to me that in a time when sexual humor is found in everything from cartoons to T-shirts, we need to be sure our teens know where to draw the line.  This is true whether they’re making the comments or being subjected to them.

Granted, “sexual harassment” might be a little strong for a junior high boy’s warped sense of humor, but it’s not too early for girls to learn to stand up for themselves.  It’s an age of experimentation and a good time for both genders to learn how to be more respectful of each other.

Take the title of this blog, for example.  Only about half of the girls today really understood what it meant (I found the same to be true last year).  After I’d explained it to them, there was a pause and then comments of “Oh! That’s disgusting!” and “Eww!” as they thought back to when they’d heard the phrase used.

We also discussed inappropriate or lewd gestures boys might use to get a laugh, like using “the bird” to scratch their noses.  The girls admitted they were uncomfortable when those kinds of things happened, but they didn’t know what to do about it.  I gave them several suggestions, from saying loudly, “That’s inappropriate!” to getting one or two friends together to single out a repeat offender and tell him how much they disapprove of his behavior (I told them boys fear girls in groups).  I also encouraged them to let the adults in their lives know, and we’d be happy to get involved.

As the mom to three sons, I know not all boys use this kind of humor around the girls (the girls will be the first to tell you that’s true), and I also know that boys can be exposed to sexual harassment.  But today was a day to enlighten and empower the girls; the boys will get their turn another day!

A Touching Moment

Last Friday I left school about 45 minutes early to go to the airport.  On my way out the door, I was surprised to find myself stopped three times by students:  “You’re leaving, Mrs. Acuna?  Bye!”  And each one of them gave me a quick hug.  These were 7th and 8th graders, mind you – and one of them was a boy!

Touch is a basic human need, but as children grow into tweens and teens, they may become less willing to be affectionate.  Hugging or kissing parents good-bye is seen as the ultimate in embarrassing acts, even if no one is actually looking.  Parents sometimes aren’t sure what’s appropriate, so they hold back their affection.

Among their peers, teens are hampered by the fear of being seen as romantically linked with the wrong person, by the possible accusation of being homosexual, or by the threat of being accused of sexual harassment.

Yet the need to be physically touched doesn’t go away.  As parents, you’d prefer to be the major people to satisfy this need (as opposed to a girlfriend or a boyfriend), so you may need to get creative.  While walking next to your son, you can give a friendly shove with a shoulder.  High fives and fist bumps are socially acceptable and can even be given in public.  If you’re sitting on the floor at a family gathering, you can probably get away with leaning against your teen’s knees.  You might also find a one-armed hug from the side is tolerated more than a full frontal bear hug.

If you have a teen who’s reluctant to show affection, take advantage of opportunities that come for hugs and kisses – and don’t make the mistake of calling attention to them with comments like, “Oh, she’s so embarrassed when her mom hugs her!” or “I see you’ll hug me when you want something.”  Just graciously accept or give the hug and be grateful, because you don’t know when the next opportunity will arise.