Here’s a question I received this week from an assistant principal of a Christian high school who is struggling with a student displaying inappropriate sexual advances to the boys in her school. His question is followed by my advice.
Q: Dear Mark,
I am looking for resources, articles, books, counseling ideas for situations that we are dealing with at our school.
For instance, we have a fifteen-year-old young lady who struggles with attraction to boys that ends up in inappropriate behavior. She asked for help after she was caught kissing boys on the bus and in the band hall. She says she is overly-interested in male attention.
She is aware of her “weakness” (her words) and fights it. Her parents are supportive, but they do not want to see their little girl coming on to guys. She is spiritually aware and wants to grow; does well and then falls into the “trap.” She is vivacious, athletic, intelligent, and attractive.
The next several years are going to become more and more dangerous for her. So, do you have any suggestions on how to help her at this pivotal time?
A: Dear Sir,
I would say first of all that you are fortunate she is asking for your help. But the kind of help she is seeking is not available in books or found in printed resources. It would best be delivered by someone sitting down with her to help her process her thoughts, emotions, desires, and lack of self-control.
You can be thankful, in a way, that this young lady has normal attractions to the opposite sex. Unfortunately, many her age are experimenting with same-sex relationships and are encouraged to do so by today’s culture. It sounds as if she already understands appropriate boundaries in that regard, but she allows herself to occasionally cross other boundaries, which can lead to trouble.
In the scheme of things, kissing on the bus, in the band hall, and other places is not really that big of a problem, but it can (and probably will) lead to more serious issues, as I’m sure you are aware. Since her internal control mechanisms aren’t quite mature enough to keep her from displaying inappropriate behavior, you’ll need to establish some external controls that place her at less risk for disaster. It is easy for young girls in this mode to quickly move from kissing to becoming more intimately involved, to stepping way over the line.
I recommend implementing healthy boundaries that keep her from engaging with guys in uncontrolled settings. This may mean changing the way she gets to and from events, classes, or other venues for awhile. Keep those boundaries in place until a counselor can make some progress with her.
In cases like this there is usually something beneath the behavior that perhaps you or her parents don’t see or are unwilling to admit. A teen doesn’t exhibit abnormal behavior or act out without fuel from somewhere else. It may come from some sense of loss in her life, or involve a broken relationship with an adult male figure or a parent. It would help for a counselor to dig deeper with this young lady to see what is feeding the fire.
Most of all, the best thing for parents and school officials to do is to offer her unconditional love, even when she makes mistakes. Don’t respond in anger. Don’t shame, belittle, embarrass, or condemn her, as it will only push her further into the behavior and deeper into those unhealthy relationships. Let her experience consequences for inappropriate behavior, but also let her know she is loved and cared for. She’s going through changes common to all adolescents, and perhaps some uncommon hidden struggles, but she will get through this.
Just make sure that she gets on the “other side” with her relationships with you and her parents still intact, realizing your concern and support for her life more than your disappointment with her inappropriate behavior.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.