Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Grief and Anger

(Pic courtesy Weekend Australian).
On Dec 12 Police shot dead 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy in Melbourne. This is the bleakest of tragedies for his family, the officers involved, and the community.

The media has provided blanket coverage, and no doubt plenty of newsprint has been sold. Most of the commentary has focussed on the behaviour of the police, and their use of firearms. Some have descended to second-guessing their actions – hardly productive. There will be a Coroner's inquest.

Not a lot has been written about the boy involved, and how he got to be in the obviously highly disturbed state that led to this dreadful outcome. Obviously, this incident developed an energy of its own, and was never completely under control. Given the training, background and equipment of the police, nor was this result surprising or unpredictable.

I've had some personal experience of attempting to deal with disturbed young men, and learned some painful lessons as a result. One of the schools in which I was principal had an enrolment of adolescents, mostly boys, with varying histories of violent behaviour and apparently irrational outbursts. There were a range of reasons for these outbursts – poorly prescribed medication, mental illness, and abuse – to name a few.

Generally, when a teacher lost control of a situation, the principal was called. I possessed no more training or experience (unless service in Vietnam counted in this context) than anyone else, but I guess I held the ultimate responsibility, so I was glad enough to be involved. These episodes weren't frequent, but they did occur from time to time. The most important goal was to ensure no-one was hurt – but I was also very keen for the other children and staff to continue their normal programme without interruption. In other words, my approach was always as low-key as possible, and I would work very hard to deprive the individual involved the opportunity to have an audience.

The only time this let me down was in trying to prevent an Autistic lad from running across a busy road. The rule we followed with this (fairly large) boy was "hands off", because he became very agitated if touched. Unfortunately, I had to grab him to prevent him running across four lanes of traffic, and finished up with a broken ankle as a result. Given that he didn't get run over, I was happy with the outcome.

On another occasion, an eleven-year old threw a desk at his teacher, stormed out of his classroom, and proceeded to rampage around the school trying to disrupt each class in turn. We used the intercom to warn staff who went into lockdown, and did their best to ignore him. I followed him at a distance of five metres hoping that he would eventually tire, and calm down. This he did, but not until he had picked up the Groundsman's pitchfork, and threw it at me, pointed end first. I side-stepped very quickly, and the five metres became ten.

When he had finally stopped yelling, screaming and throwing things (two hours later), he curled up in a foetal position in a corner, and sobbed uncontrollably. All I could do was to put my hand on his shoulder and stay with him until the sobbing stopped. He was calm enough then to apologise to the various teachers he'd abused, pick up the items thrown, and then catch the bus home. More restitution followed the next day, and I met with his mother. Fortunately, this was the one and only time he behaved this way.

The reason for the outburst? His much-loved father had died two months before. He had apparently not reacted. My guess was that he had bottled up all his grief until he could do so no longer, and the result was this outburst of rage. This was no excuse for the behaviour, but probably explained it. We organised for him to plant a tree in the school grounds in tribute to his dad, and he looked after it with enormous care and diligence.

This was not the first time I'd observed an adolescent boy dealing with grief, nor was it the first time that anger was a problem.

Tyler Cassidy's father died of cancer a few years ago.


Boy on a bike said...

I've only had a brief experience with this sort of thing once. When at Uni, we used to do a camp for kids on a regular basis - taking kids from a deprived background for a day (or up to a week on a proper camp) to give their parents a break and the kids a bit of fun. It was one kid to one adult.

We were having a picnic lunch, with about 200 kids spread out over a park. My little monster was there with his sister. They had to be separated, as he had stabbed his sister several times at home with scissors or carving knives (she had the scars to prove it). Halfway through his lunch, he took off one shoe. I thought he was about to take off the other, when he stood up and belted the nearest adult over the head with the shoe. And I mean belted. He really put his weight into it. It was an old-style Bata leather school shoe, with a solid leather sole and chunky heel.

It was completely out of the blue and utterly unwarranted, and he showed no emotion beforehand or afterwards. The bloke wasn't even facing him - he had his back to him, and they'd had no contact during the day. He just decided that it was time someone was hurt.

Don't ask me what went on in his past, as I have no idea what put him into that state. He would be fairly normal one moment, and completely bonkers (and violent) the next.

This was in the days before kids were stuffed full of drugs at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary. I take it his poor mum (no dad of course) and teachers, and sister, just had to put up with it as best they could.

There are some completely mixed up people out there, and those of us in our comfortable middle class enclaves have very, very little exposure to it.

1735099 said...

I can assure you anecdotally that over 40 years in schools I've observed a strong correlation between what the literature calls "acting out" behaviours in boys and the absence of a father.
Given the declining numbers of men going into the teaching profession it's not going to change any time soon.

Ash said...


Do you then perceive that I may experience a problem with my daughter, who will be raised well away from her father?

Not relying on you, but more asking an opinion.

1735099 said...

Not at all - just pointing out what I've observed through experience. Plenty of kids are raised successfully by single parents of both genders. I've just noticed over the years a small number of boys who have enormous difficulty coping with the loss of a father - usually through sudden death rather than separation.

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