Trauma When a School Prank Goes Awry
by Lionel Mandy, JD, MBA, MSW
In one of my many professional capacities, I act as a volunteer mediator. This work is both interesting and rewarding to me. The program for which I mediate involves first- and second-time juvenile offenders—ages 7 to 17. Mediation brings the victim and offender together in a non-court setting. The process gives the victim the opportunity to confront the offender with the financial, emotional, physical, and other effects that resulted from his or her offense.
The result of the process, when successful, is that the victim receives some form of restitution which the victim and offender agree to. The benefits are that the offender can reframe their priorities and choose a different life path. My work as the mediator is to guide the parties toward a mutual agreement—and to structure the process so that all parties are respected, honest, and focused on the issues at hand.
A few weeks back, I took part in such a mediation in South Los Angeles. The victim was a 10-year old African American girl, who we will call “Felicity.” The offender was an 11-year-old African American boy, who we will call “Michael.” Parents of both young people were also present. Both were students in the same class at school at the time of the incident.
That day, Michael tried to play a practical joke on Felicity while she was away from her seat delivering papers to the school office. Michael put a pencil in her seat, much as children of old used to put gum or tacks on the seats of other youngsters. This time, however, the results were far different. Felicity did not see the pencil, and sat on it. Unfortunately, the pencil became impaled in her buttock area.
With a combination of pain, guilt, and embarrassment, Felicity went to the teacher to tell what had happened. The teacher did not see evidence of the wound at first, which only brought more unwanted attention to the girl. She finally convinced the teacher to let her go see the nurse. The nurse could (or would) do nothing substantial for her.
Finally, Felicity’s parents were called. Her father had to come to get her and transport her to the hospital, where surgery was done to remove the pencil.
Michael was suspended from school and later banned from the campus as a result of this incident. He was also arrested. Being a first-time offender, he qualified for our mediation program, so the probation officer referred the case to me.
During mediation, Felicity and Michael wept as they described the incident and its aftereffects. Michael had written Felicity a letter of apology, which he gave to Felicity at the mediation. He tearfully said that he was sorry for what he had done, and that he had not intended to hurt her. The mediation reached a conclusion that satisfied all parties; financial compensation and community service were included in the agreement.
Yet as my co-mediator and I were completing the paperwork, it became evident that the traumatic episode itself was not over.
Felicity’s mother mentioned that her daughter was suffering a number of challenges as a result of this tragic event. She experienced flashbacks when approaching her seat at school fearing that she would sit on a pencil again. She had been unable to sleep well during the weeks following the event. And her grades were going down. We also learned that Michael had been suffering nightmares related to his role in this event.
I had not immediately thought of applying TFT to this situation because I was focused on the mediation process. However, as Michael and his family left, Felicity’s mother asked where she might get some assistance for her daughter.
I suggested that I might be able to help.
I told the parents that I was trained in a therapy that had proven very effective with traumas such as this, and that if they wished, I would be glad to assist them free of charge.
A week later, I met with Felicity, her parents, and my co-mediator, who is also a social worker. He was intrigued by my description of relieving trauma by “tapping.” I began with the issue of the pain from being impaled by the pencil, and using the pain algorithm, reduced her Subjective Units of Distress (SUD) from 10 to 1. I then used the anxiety algorithm to address the anxiety over sitting in her seat at school, also reducing the SUD from 10 to 1.
I tested for other issues, and found none present. Felicity was so relieved that she was giggling, laughing—in short, she was transformed. Her parents were thrilled, and my good friend the co-mediator was equally impressed.
I’ve also been in contact with Michael’s parents, and unfortunately, his nightmares continue. I made the same offer to Michael and am scheduling a date soon to work on overcoming his post-traumatic distress.
Excerpted from Callahan Techniques’ latest book, The Tapping
Solution: Tapping the Body’s Energy Pathways