As a primary school guidance counselor, I am sometimes asked what I have to do. In reply, it is often difficult to accurately express the responsibilities, but I believe the following comes close.
As I reflect upon the 18 years I have worked with young people, ages 5 to 18, I think the word support describes the role of the school counselor most accurately. The daily issues, in respect to children whom I and other school counselors support, are as follows:
We support children who have been sexually abused, either by parents, relatives, adult acquaintances, adolescent acquaintances, or others. Sometimes this abuse occurred when the children were infants.
We support children who have been physically abused, many cases of which are more severe than the injuries Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan incurred.
We support children who have been emotionally abused, abandoned, neglected, or told they are not wanted.
We support children who are trying to cope with the emotional turmoil of family changes brought on by separation and divorce: children who are sometimes faced with the difficult choice of which parent they want to live with.
We support children who are trying to cope with the loss of a loved one through illness, accident, suicide or old age.
We support children whose families and lives are affected by the disease of alcoholism or other drug abuses.
We support children who suffer nightmares from watching horror movies, such as the Nightmare movies starring Freddie Kruger, some as early as age 5.
We support children who are experiencing learning difficulties, aware that the average child in America watches about five hours of television per day. (Such "wholesome" programs as Beavis and Butt-Head included.)
We support children who suffer from peer ridicule because they may be different from other children in some way.
We support children who are victims of prejudice.
We support children who often appear angry at the world and whose main method of dealing with conflict is physical aggressiveness, who consequently pose a threat to innocent children and themselves.
We support children who experience severe anxiety because of threats on their lives from adults whose main method of dealing with conflict is physical aggressiveness.
We support children who have severe separation anxiety from their parents.
We support children in hopes of preventing potential suicide.
We support children who face an unsafe society and must be taught caution regarding strangers.
We support children who are starved for attention.
The list could go on.
I recognize that many of these children represent only a percentage of children in our society, and that there are many children who grow up with much love and support. I recognize that the job brings counselors in contact with these problems day after day. Therefore, the percentage of children facing these problems can sometimes seem like a norm.
But believe me: The number of children facing these problems is increasing each year.
After many years of serving children in the above capacity, I was dismayed that I and other educators were addressed with disrespect, rudeness, obscenities, and unfounded implications by some members of the Concerned Parents of Citrus County regarding the "Pumsy and DUSO" esteem-building curriculum.
Although this may not reflect the philosophy of the organization, the example they set for the children who attended the same meeting, was inappropriate.
I have a suggestion for those parents who are obviously concerned about not only their children, but children in general. I believe the most direct and constructive way concerned parents can be of help to children is to volunteer to work with the children.
There are many school and community volunteers who devote their time, energy and talents to working directly with the children, and the benefits for the children are significant.
As one counselor in a school of more than 800 children, I could readily suggest many students who could benefit from additional constructive attention from an adult.
In addition, I would suggest that concerned parents reflect upon the fact that counselors have no more than five hours of classroom instruction per year to try to impart some positive learning to children. This is but a drop in the bucket compared to the many negative influences on children in today's society.
Paul Brundage lives in Inverness. He is a guidance counselor at Lecanto Primary School, a former teacher, and a former child abuse investigator for the state Health and Rehabilitative Services Department.