Why our children may need mental health support

Courtesy of Sheletta Brundige “J.C. The Counselor” conducts a therapy session at home with client Andrew

Black parents should embrace therapy as first step to address problematic behavior

At 12 years old, something happened to my up-until-then-perfect little son Andrew. He went from being Honest Abe making straight As in school to acting like Lying Lucious who wouldn’t turn in his homework.

No matter what my husband Shawn and I did, we couldn’t get the boy to tell us the truth about anything. And y’all know we family, so I’m just gonna be honest with you—y’all know I think I’m a private detective, right?

So anytime Andrew told me something that I thought he wasn’t being honest about, I went into full Sherlock Homegirl to figure out what the heck was going on with my child.

But he was slipping into darkness and I couldn’t reach him.

The lies were getting bigger and bolder.

His grades started slipping.

He started talking back. And y’all KNOW we ain’t having that in the Brundidge household!

I wanted to spank him, but the laws up in Minnesota won’t allow you to discipline your children the good ole fashioned way, which meant I was stuck like chuck.

So when Amari Allen, the sixth-grade girl from Virginia told and then recanted a story about three white boys cutting her hair, it hit close to home for me.

What would make Amari and my son Andrew—two good kids from two-parent homes in the suburbs who attend Christian schools—lie like this?

I don’t have the answer but I knew who to call: Jason Clopton from Levan Counseling in Brooklyn Center. He’s a therapist who specializes in youth and young adults. Known to his clients as “J.C. The Counselor,” Clopton is a “teen whisper” who is able to successfully reach children where their parents failed to do so.

I can attest to that because, in the interest of full disclosure, he’s been working with my son Andrew for a couple of months now. Their counseling sessions are not what we think traditional therapy should look like.

During their very first visit, Clopton met Andrew on a basketball court near our home and played hoops. Future talks included playing video games, eating pizza and doing artwork.

Clopton has been able to reach Andrew in ways that I couldn’t. I’ve seen tremendous improvement in my son’s behavior and I know it’s because of the therapy he’s getting.

I ask Clopton to talk about Amari’s situation and how black parents should embrace therapy as the first option to tackle problematic behaviors. An excerpt of that conversation appears below.

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR): What in the world is going on at 12 years old? This little girl in Virginia completely made up this story about these boys cutting her hair. I can’t even be mad at her because my own son is doing the exact same thing! I’m just in shock about the whole thing.

Courtesy of Sheletta Brundidge

Jason Clopton (JC): I appreciate you asking me my opinion and I’ve been following up on this story out of Virginia where the young lady lied on the three boys and said they cut her hair. I was in the same position as you. I was baffled and shocked. This particular situation is why I do exactly what I do.

MSR: What do you mean by that?

JC: What I mean is that I, me and my counseling comrades, we want to provide outlets for our children to be able to express how they feel. How they feel about themselves and others. And also we want to provide them with a safe space to openly discuss how the experiences that they’ve had are affecting their feeling and emotions. Most parents don’t realize, that’s what shapes these children.

MSR: You believe something happened to her?

JC: Yes, I believe something this young lady experienced led her to believe, for a time, that this fiction was fact. It may be something she saw on television. Something she saw on YouTube. Oh my goodness, don’t get me started on YouTube. I wish we could put some more parental barriers on YouTube.

MSR: I know you helped me to understand that my son Andrew was acting out because my husband and I were giving a lot of attention to our three children who have autism and he felt left out.

JC: Exactly. It doesn’t appear she was given the attention she needed. Now listen, this is not a knock against the parents in any way, because there are a lot of things going on with our children that we don’t see. And those things, the things we can not see, affect how our children feel about themselves and others. We have to create more spaces where that type of dialogue gets promoted and encouraged and embraced.

MSR: I mean what are we looking for? I didn’t know Andrew needed more attention until it was damn near too late…

JC: That’s not easy. There isn’t a sign on our children’s head saying “Come talk to me, come see me, come help me.” But there are little things that we as parents and mental health professionals can pay attention to and bring awareness to. Those things indicate to us that there is a need for more support for the child. And I think that that is what was going on in this situation in Virginia and in my boy Andrew.

MSR: My podcast partner Lindy Vincent says black people are suffering from PTSD collectively based on what our ancestors and forefathers went through.

JC: Generational trauma is real. We have to address it in our community. We overlook it. We need more awareness about how it’s showing up in our lives and in the lives of our children.

MSR: How bout I just whoop Amari and Andrew!

JC: Sheletta, that’s crazy; don’t spank the children. Think about it, when we need our child to learn how to read, we teach them. Right? So when it comes to a child’s behavior, we tell them that we want them to behave or to be good. But we don’t always show them what that looks like in different settings and in different aspects of their lives. There needs to be more discussion on how we are parenting.

MSR: Speaking of discussions, there is something I don’t get: As much as these kids talk, all day non-stop, why don’t they tell us what’s wrong?

JC: Often a child is not equipped to articulate how their feelings are driving their actions and behaviors. We have to make it okay to discuss those things. That’s why our children need more mental health support. Something inside that child caused her to behave and feel this way. There needs to be therapeutic support.

MSR: Just for the kid?

JC: No, there needs to be some family therapy going on there as well.

Jason Clopton, or “J.C. The Counselor” is a therapist at Levan Counseling in Brooklyn Center. He can be reached at (612) 440-0914 or visit their website at levancounseling.org.