The baby-snatcher is one of the most enduring social worker stereotypes. The assumption that we steal children away first, ask questions later, is one that most of us confront fairly regularly. Some social workers are able to explain that they don’t even work with kids. Some, like me, try to make people understand that, although we work with families, we’re not authorized to remove children, and this would be kidnapping, whether or not we used a van. Still others have to explain that, while removal might be a part of their job, it’s a bit more nuanced than people tend to think.
You would think that hearing, “I’m not here to take your kids!” would be a comfort to everyone, especially the parents. And it often is. But then there are the parents of teenagers.
I most often get this from mothers of teen girls, but it happens with boys at times as well. These parents come in, sometimes self-referred due to struggling with their teenager in the home, or referred by ACS for “educational neglect.” (This term, when applied to young children, means that the parent is being negligent in getting the child to school. When applied to teens, it means the kid is truant due to 1) unmet special needs 2) problems in the home or 3) being a lazy jerk. These are all technical terms, do try to keep up.)
A lot of parents come in and are fed up. I think we all get that. Teens are exhausting. I work with them, and I was one. Sometimes I wonder why my parents still talk to me. I’ve also had a couple…let’s say, free-spirited youngsters, in my family. So it’s not that I don’t understand how someone could feel like they’re at the end of their rope.
That’s not to say I agree with the desperate “take my kids, please!”
Parents regularly come to us, wanting their teenagers removed from the home. Not forever, mind you. They want them to come home fixed.
I blame Sally Jesse Raphael. Remember that show? Overwhelmed mothers would bring their out of control, swearing, skanky teens on the show. The audience would boo them, get sassy with the teens in question (“Yo momma brought you into this world, she can take you out!” Really? Murder?) and then a “drill sergeant” (sorry, putting on fatigues doesn’t make you a drill sergeant) would yell and make them run through tires. They would cry and hug their moms, happy to be home after a harrowing afternoon. Problem solved.
I sincerely doubt that this works. But hey, television is a powerful medium. People very often believe what they see, especially when they’re feeling desperate.
People who really want help don’t seek it on TV. If you genuinely want to meet someone to spend your life with, or find out who the father of your child is, you don’t do it on The Bachelor or Maury. Unless you are seeking attention, or a complete idiot.
Mom: “She’s out of control. Can’t you send her to one of those boot camps?”
SJ: “What boot camp? You want her to enlist?”
Mom: “No, those programs for bad kids, like on the talk shows.”
SJ: “I think those are rather expensive.”
Mom: “Well, the city can pay for it!”
SJ: “The city doesn’t do that.”
Mom: “Why not?”
SJ: “I don’t know. We can write a letter. This isn’t helping right now.”
Get this kid out of my house, she can come back when she’s ready to listen. (Note: I don’t want to be the one to make her listen.)
I’m not talking about the parents of children with mental illness, looking for residential treatment. I’m talking about parents who have, for lack of a better term, let their kids run wild. Little kids “acting bad” is generally regarded as cute. They swear, they get sassy, and everyone laughs. Then they’re teenagers, bigger than their parents, and it isn’t so cute anymore.
The common thread here is wanting the kids sent away. Wanting someone else to come in and fix things. These are most often the parents who send their kid in for counseling, but refuse to participate themselves, saying they’re not the ones who have the problem. They are genuinely shocked and appalled that they are expected to do some hard work and make changes. “Why won’t you whisk him away to the Good Teen Factory?!”
Like I said, I get it. I understand being overwhelmed, being depressed, or not having supports to turn to. I understand feeling undermined as a parent by systems that you don’t want in your life. But I don’t understand feeling like your child is someone else’s responsibility.
I was raised with a pretty strict, “You made this mess, you clean it up.” If Rudy Huxtable was responsible for cleaning the kitchen when she tried to make jelly in the blender (so cute) then you can at the very least participate in getting your teenager’s life back on track.
I’m always being told by these parents that they have reached out for help, so if we don’t “fix” the child in question, and that child gets arrested or hurt, they’re going to sue.
Seriously. People say this. Constantly.
First of all, if your kid is hurt, dead, or in jail, and your first thought is, “Who is paying me for this?!” just go fuck yourself. This is not a social worky, strengths based statement, but I do think it’s accurate.
Second of all, fine. Bring all the law suits you want. But this kid is your responsibility. First and last. I will never understand a mindset that contradicts this.
I don’t like lamenting a lack of personal responsibility. It makes me feel like a Republican, which isn’t good, because I can’t shower at work. But I need to be honest.
Challenging this mindset is a huge part of my job. And complaining about it on the internet seems to be a huge part of keeping me at it.