This week as I was driving and found myself behind a school bus, the bus’ yellow lights began to flash yellow then red as it slowed. I noticed that two oncoming cars, one behind the other, sped by the bus while it was stopped. I was appalled at this dangerous action. Several automobile horns honked loud and long in protest. I think everyone was amazed that someone would boldly endanger children in that way. I am quite sure that if a law enforcement officer was nearby, those drivers would be facing serious consequences. In Pennsylvania, a driver convicted of failing to stop while school bus lights are flashing red would incur a suspended license for 60 days, five points on his/her driving record and a $250 fine.
Outside and inside the bus
It is always serious to endanger children physically. The school bus is a symbol of protection for our children. It is a tangible way that we value the safety and well-being of our children.
The incident caused me to consider issues that may be going on inside a school bus. I know that relational interactions among students can sometimes be unhealthy. In fact, students have reported being bullied on our school buses, but how many school bus drivers are trained to deal with the variety of social and emotional needs of the students on their bus at this key time in the day?
What happens inside the bus?
So, while the outside of the bus may be a symbolic shell of protection, the inside of the bus may not be the safe haven we perceive or wish. And once inside this very same shell, as we try to protect our children from passing cars, do we protect them from other relational and emotional damage that may occur? What happens inside the bus is invisible to the outside world.
I find this analogy true in many community and societal places that care for our children. Schools, homes, churches, recreational programs—and even some of our human service organizations—may look like external havens of protection or sanctuaries, but look closely on the inside and unknown dynamics are going on that could create horrific consequences to the emotional and relational health of a child.
Trauma can happen anywhere, even within protective shells
I have been writing about the significant impact that traumatic events have on our children. We know that traumatic events can happen almost anywhere. What seems to be a safe haven for children can also be a place where children are violated, abused, neglected and emotionally damaged. It is sad to have to admit that this occurs in an industrialized nation. What a tragedy!
Remember the trauma lenses I have discussed in past posts? This school bus analogy indicates why we should be attuned and aware to the signs and issues of trauma. We should be on alert when we see children who seem to be struggling with either hyper-arousal or dissociation as these behaviors may signify problems occurring inside a situation that should be an emotional and relational sanctuary.
Remember the flashing red lights
We also need to be aware of parents, professionals or others who are involved with our children and who do not respect their rights, who abuse, neglect or violate normal boundaries…like the red flashing lights on the bus of which we need to honor in light of the serious nature of consequences that may harm our children.
It is my hope that we who provide for the needs our children will develop new lenses for nurture and emotional support. If we can provide healthy environments for our children through training those who care for them, and by being aware of those who, for whatever reason, create trauma or adverse childhood experiences for them, we can make significant changes that will protect our children both outside and inside their respective worlds.
Indeed, the school bus lights are flashing as our children are constantly entering and exiting the invisible world that inhabits the inside of the bus. If we listen carefully, with trauma lenses intact, we may be able to help them deal with some of the threatening situations they face. We may provide help both to them and to those who are responsible for their care.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network