The Ghostly Minds of Middle-School Boys

This morning I took a carful of fifth graders to the Detroit Science Museum. I didn’t know any of them well (apart from my son, that is). And so I was a bit floored when the two sitting immediately behind me started talking about the fact that they regularly hear things going “bump” in the night. If you catch my meaning.

One of them, who happened to be from another faith tradition, lost his father a few years ago as well as several other male relatives. The other was Catholic, and said that he regularly wakes up hearing someone walking up and down the stairs outside his room. Even though no one is there.

My son has told me from time to time he’ll wake up and sense that someone is in the room. So he tells his guardian angels to protect him, pulls the covers over his head, and goes back to sleep. I’m starting to wonder if this is a middle-school thing, something in the development of their brains.

I was a little floored at first, knowing what to say to the child who had lost his father. He has a teenage brother, and it sounds as though the two boys are often on their own as the mother supports the family alone. He mentioned that he regularly sees movies and television programs that are … well, let’s just say the content is more mature than I’d want my 10-year-old to see.

This boy didn’t really know me, and I was pretty sure if I just said, “Don’t WATCH stuff like that. It will rot your brain!” He wouldn’t listen — and it wouldn’t really help. Nor did I think his mother would appreciate my issuing an altar call right there on the freeway. So I racked my brain for something that would be consistent with his world view.

“Sweetie, you must miss your dad so much, and it must be comforting to think of him right there beside you. He will always be a part of you, living right inside your heart. And I think if he were here right now, he would want you to focus on what a gift life is, and to enjoy the good things every single day.

“You know, sometimes I have scary thoughts at night, and I let my imagination get away with me, thinking about the future. When that happens, I ask my guardian angel to help me, and to bring my prayers straight to God. I know for a fact that all three of the great monotheistic religions believe in angels — Hagar and Ismael, Abraham and Isaac, the stories of the apostles, all of them include stories of God’s messengers who intervene when we need it. Maybe next time you feel scared or worried, this little prayer might help you.” Then I taught them all the “Angel of God” prayer.

“Thanks, Mrs. Saxton. I like that — I’ll try it.”

“One more thing. Have you ever considered why some movies are labeled ‘R’, so that you have to be 17 or with your parent to see them? Or why some movies are PG-13? Your brain is developing really quickly right now, and some images are so powerful that they can be permanently etched in your mind, and not in a good way. If you’re having trouble sleeping, and find yourself often thinking about dark things — death, and demons, and ghosts — then you really need to watch what you are feeing your brain. That means making grown-up decisions about what kind of movies you watch with your brother. That way you can be in charge of your thoughts and your dreams.”

Both boys got quiet on that one. I wondered how much their parents knew about their viewing habits. Clearly they both had a lot of time on their hands without supervision … and so someone needed to encourage them to think like little adults, instead of sneaky children.

This little boy had been through so much. He needed someone to give him permission to be a child as long as possible.

Heavenly Father, watch over all the children in my community whose parents aren’t there to influence their daily choices and habits. Give these children wisdom beyond their years, to protect their hearts from the evil one and his schemes. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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