When you have a child in your life that means the world to you, as I do, when I saw this story arise, made me sick, disgusted and so frustrated that any school or community program would allow their coaches and trainers to clearly assault and abuse teens on their cheer team as they did at East High School in Colorado.

As a WARNING, this video is very disturbing as you hear this teen crying out many times yelling for the coaches to stop as she cries and screams in terror and pain. It is terrible, sick and extremely disturbing. The trauma this teen and her colleagues experienced will affect them throughout their teen years and adult life. As a cognitive-neuroscientist myself, with their stage of adolescent brain development this trauma will have future consequences affecting brain development, putting them at risk of mental health issues.
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East High cheerleaders Repeatedly forced to do splits (Source: 9News Colorado)

As observed at East High School in Colorado, compare how the so called “adults” or “trainers” treated this one teen (although there are others) to the Mission Statement and Goals of the American Youth Football & Cheer (AYF), a National Service Organization for youth football and cheer. They failed in their mission and goals. This was clearly child abuse and neglect. This type of abuse will have acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) physical, emotional and psychological affects, having significant influence to their brain development and affecting them into adulthood.
Child Abuse and Neglect Defined: At the Federal level of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” [CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-320), § 5101, Note (§ 3)]. Types of abuse include:
  • Physical abuse: Defined as “any nonaccidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child.
  • Neglect: Defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.
  • Emotional abuse: Defined as “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition” and injury as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.”

WHAT CAN PARENTS & CAREGIVERS DO?
Parents need to empower their children and teens so their child or teen knows what to do and how to get out of a situation immediately, if they ever feel threatened, ridiculed or forced into anything they feel painful or uncomfortable with.

EDUCATE YOUR CHILD

While we want children and teens to follow rules, there are their own personal boundaries that need not be violated by anyone. These include unwanted touching, pain, discomfort, fear, put downs, ridicule, threats, to name a few. A child or teen might listen and follow instructions of the coach, trainer or other adult, because they have learned “listen to the adult”. But regardless, if there is unwanted touching, pain, discomfort, feat, put downs, ridicule, threats or otherwise that makes the child or teen feeling uncomfortable in any way, this can be child abuse and neglect and they need to immediately remove themselves from that situation any way they can. If this means like yelling out "stop", "I am in pain", "someone please call the police", or physically, out of self-defense to physically remove themselves from the coach, trainer or adult and run to get help, they need to do what they need to protect themselves. Do not wait and sustain abuse.

BE AWARE OF WHAT GOES ON AT PRACTICE AND GAMES

Remember you are the parent or caregiver, and the school, club or community program, these are the people you leave your child with to care for. With understanding that your child will be safe and not injured. They are responsible for your child and your duty as a parent or caregiver is to ensure those who you leave your child with, will keep your child safe from physical, emotional and psychological harm or they will be held responsible. And you as a parent or caregiver need to let your child or teen know, in addition to those responsible (and this means the principal athletic director, trainers and other adults).

1.      Be aware of what happens at practice and games: If you are not aware you cannot protect your child. For example, are coaches, trainers and other adults making positive and constructive comments to your child and team so they can learn and improve? Or do they humiliate, put down or force the child?

2.      Coaches, trainers and other adults must put your child’s safety first: While you put your child in their hands to care for, you are the primary advocate for your child. Do they put your child at risk of injury? Does your child feel safe? If your child is injured or feels pain, how do they respond? Do they ignore the child, put them down, or do they validate how they feel?

3.      Know the coaches and program priorities: First your job as a parent or caregiver is to make sure your child is safe. Does the coach care about your child? Or do they push them beyond a limit of personal boundaries, pain or fear? Is it only about winning? Or learning and to improve and support?

4.      Know your child-their physical, emotional and psychological ability: You know your child. All children are different. They learn differently and coaches, trainers and other adults also have different methods. But they need to understand that they are also responsible to protect your child’s boundaries. If they cannot that is not the best environment for your child. If a team or program seems abusive, research it by talking to other programs or schools to compare. If it is abusive, remove your child and find another program they will enjoy. But also, if needed, report them by contacting your local health department children's services (local child abuse hotline) if things go too far like in this video. Also make sure your child understands so they can learn and be empowered. Keeping your child safe is most important, not worrying about what their peers or other parents think or say.

5.      Teach your child about the role of the coach, trainer and other adults: As a parent or caregiver talk to your child so they understand the role of a coach. A coach, trainer and other adults need to be supportive, kind, compassionate. Sometimes they can go too far and violate personal boundaries, physically, emotionally and psychologically.

6.      Make sure your child knows they can talk with you openly about how they feel: As a parent or caregiver, if you feel your child is having problems or if there are signs of abuse, “listen” to your child and “respond” being compassionate with understanding. This will help your child feel more comfortable coming to you if there is a problem. Sometimes the best thing is to listen, give the child options to consider and often they can make the best choice. You are there to help stimulate and help them make the best choices. If you need to take more control, then you do, but listen and respond, do not react to quickly. Allow them to continue to come and talk to you. 
 


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