Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Drama Queen

Since my last writing I’ve been to a bit of an educational conference that has made me somewhat more inclined to be merciful and less critical of the drama queens in my life. Something was explained about emotional dysregulation and people acting out on very real feelings. The existence of those feelings may not make sense to outside parties. It is in this respect that the attention seeking drama queen behaviors are not necessarily as manipulative and evil as they most likely seem.

Anyway, I will still illustrate the drama queen.

This kid is one of our lowest ranking folks on the social hierarchy and was even more so when he was early on the island. Hence, he didn’t have much of a relationship at all with the other boys. One of the most popular kids was one day kicked off the island. He was a kid with a lot of close friends among the boys and the day he left a lot of people were pretty upset. However, the drama queen was new enough to the island he really hadn’t bonded with anyone yet and certainly had no special ties to the abolished child. Despite this, the most emotionally distraught individual was the drama queen who made the biggest scene in terms of how unfair it was that his super close friend was being run off the island.

A common recurring behavior of the drama queen is to display wounds that have involved bleeding. Every cut, knick, scrape that ever leaked the red liquid becomes something to show grown-ups as if the wounds should elicit a concerned response. One day the 100x magnification of this behavior could be seen when one of the other boys threw a rock and plunked the drama queen in the head. Drama queen fell to the ground under the blow and had quite a bit of bleeding from his lacerated scalp. It was a painful and disorienting wound, I’m sure. However, the hamming seemed to amp up gradually the further we got from the event. First there was the “I’m too stunned to apply pressure to my own bleeding wound.” This was followed by what I could have sworn was exaggerated sobbing. This came in conjunction with “I’m gonna kill him the next time I see him.” This is a reasonably predictable sentiment but really not plausible for this kid and seemed expressed more in acting than in true rage. All of his efforts seemed to come to fruition as a glowing pleasure emanated while the nurse cooingly cleaned and dressed his wound.

Considering the nature of his injury a concussion seemed not unlikely and it was decided that he needed to be seen by a doctor. This was on a Friday so he just took the boat back to the Cape with us. As we just started to head out the drama queen closed his eyes for a second wincing in pain when one of the other staff told him to not go to sleep because that can really complicate a concussion. Within a few seconds the drama queen leaned back as if about to nap when the staff shook him and repeated that he shouldn’t sleep. So, as the boat ride went on, the kid would make more and more fuss about pretending to sleep and getting pissed when the staff person would shake him to make sure he didn’t. He clearly relished the fact that he could get someone to respond to him every few seconds. After a while the other staff went out on the outside deck and the actress faked sleep again. I didn’t shake him awake. I just ignored him. And after the critical few seconds of “oh my gosh he’s falling asleep” wore off he gave up and stopped playing at it.

These are some of the most intense examples. The more day-to-day business from this kid is to act like he needs more help on his schoolwork than he does, throw exaggerated hissy fits over nothing, voluntarily “help” with things you really don’t want him to do, etc. But writing of this kid and considering the way these behaviors recently felt to me like someone scratching a chalkboard, I feel inclined to make a brief soapbox about how a kid gets to this point.

I mentioned in the princess post how it is understandable that so much of what is considered bad behavior from adolescents is simply a form of communication where in kids are trying like mad to get people they should have attached relationships with to acknowledge they do in fact exist and do in fact matter. Kids who might end up on the island don’t get this sort of acknowledgement. When they do it is usually in the wrong way meaning abuse. A lot of them don’t even really have attached relationships.
Sometimes people look at all the stupid, irresponsible, risky, and otherwise deviant things that adolescents do and impulsively criticize them. Instead I like the saying of President Monson in the Priesthood Session of Conference last October that young people need less criticism and better examples.
* On the island we want to build relationships with kids. Then when their emotional needs are met they will want to change on their own. I think that it works. Last week I saw marked improvement in both princess and drama queen. It could be a temporary change but I like to think I’m seeing the fruit of what we do.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Princess

I was planning to write this bit in on my last week off but didn’t manage it. It turned out to be okay because this week gave me a lot of fodder for writing this up.

It may or may not seem strange to talk about hardened criminal adolescent boys as princesses and drama queens. However, in the last few weeks I’ve seen so much behavior that cannot be described otherwise. It is actually pretty pervasive, this princess-ness or drama queen-dom among the boys of Penikese Island. It kind of makes sense in that many of these guys are here with behavioral disorders because they haven’t gotten their needed allotment of attention etc. growing up. Consequently they often do things based on how much people pay attention to them, and their egos are particularly fragile. To illustrate I will describe some of what has gone on with the two boys I think most typify the concepts of princess and drămă queen.

The princess has a rather high opinion of his own appearance. He is very particular about the state of his “do rag.” (sp?) He was once observed looking at a photo of himself that didn’t turn out very well. He was going to burn it but changed his mind because as he referred to himself in the third person, “Adonis
*, is just too beautiful.” This last week Adonis was quite proud of his outfit coming out the island. It constituted of a Lakers jersey and a pair of blue jeans with purple and yellow bands on the legs and pockets. (For those as ignorant as I, the Lakers wear yellow and purple.) It was the matching aspect of which he was most proud and I was most brutally mocking. Where I’m from, teenage boys are supposed to ignore such things and leave color matching to girls.

The princess Adonis is also very clever at spinning reality in such a way as to make you think he must be the most awesome person in the world. Should you ever play a few games of pool with him he will not only remember but also vigorously assert that he beat you many more times than he actually did. In my case I grant that he is a bit better at pool than I am. But due to luck, circumstance, whatever, I’ve managed to scrape by winning about half of the games we’ve had. Curiously though, the princess has only recently started to allow that I’ve beat him once. Another example came up this last week. In a bid for attention the princess invaded the staff sleeping quarters to lob bits of cookie dough at one of the other staff members. Refusing all requests to leave of his own power the staff present determined to perform “a restraint.” (That’s code for man-handling a kid or physically moving the kid to solve some kind of problem. There’s a lot of technical hoo hah about restraints but I’ll spare you for the moment.) Basically what happened was the two guys tried to wrestle him out of the room. He’s a big kid and resisted a lot so I helped them out. Anyway, even before the restraint was over the princess began reinventing how the whole thing went down. In each telling he framed himself in increasing terms of glory. “No what really happened was, I was restraining you” etc.

The princess is also not very good at taking criticism. He is clearly above the paltry needs for correction. To paraphrase They Might Be Giants I’ve said “Is it not enough that we get to walk in the glow of his majestic presence?” Examples of this include throwing fits when getting feedback on his math assignments and smashing lantern chimneys when reminded to do certain kitchen work.

Anyway, this is long and probably boring so… I’m going to give the drama queen installment some other time.

* This is a code name. I use it to protect the identity of someone who will never be affected by the publication of this blog.