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Hiding in Plain Sight: The Stories of Today’s Youth

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“He said he wouldn’t show anyone!  He said the picture would just be for him!  He even said he loved me and would never do anything to hurt me!”

Candice first came to the Youth Centre with her parents.  They had called the week before, asked some questions about who we are and what we do, and then requested a tour of the centre with their daughter. Though they didn’t share much about Candice during that first visit, her mom did pull me aside and almost in a whisper told me that Candice had been struggling at school and with her “so-called friends” over the last several months. They were looking for a safe place with some positive role models as well as somewhere she could begin to develop new friendships.

Truthfully, it didn’t take long for Candice to fit right in and begin to make friends.  She was outgoing, kind-hearted, easy to talk with, and had a very distinct laugh that was often heard. Only during our weekly Supper & Soul Talk did she seem to withdraw a little, though a keen volunteer had also noticed that her eyes always seemed to be looking everyone over. In a subtle but almost calculated way we began to notice how much time Candice spent checking out others. In fact, it seemed like she was never quite relaxed, constantly but secretly sizing everyone up.

It was after a group discussion one night that she pulled one of our female volunteers aside and told them her story.

Tears flowed before words came out but she eventually found the courage to say that she had “sexted” her boyfriend a few months back. She went on to explain that she had always struggled with body image and felt like she lived in her sister’s shadow, who was always referred to as “beautiful” by her parents.  She knew her parents didn’t mean to elevate her sister over her, they probably had no idea, but she always felt like they did. This, along with several other factors, led to an eating disorder, and at one point she weighed as little as 87 lbs. Though she felt terrible she liked how she looked, so she kept depriving her body.

It was at this time that she started receiving attention from a guy in her class and soon after they were dating. Only two weeks later she had already made decisions that she regretted and then the request for the nude picture came through a text. Deep down she didn’t want to and had heard of other sexting gone bad, but after some convincing (along with her own fear of losing her boyfriend) she sent him a picture of herself with nothing on but a bathing suit bottom.

The very next morning her sister saw it posted on Facebook. She immediately told Candice and then told their parents. In quick order her parents had the picture removed from Facebook, contacted the school, and the police got involved. Everything that could have been done was done … but Candice couldn’t shake the fact that likely hundreds of people had seen the photo and over 70 people had “Liked” it. This led to a season of depression, losing almost all of her friends at school, and eventually her parents removed her from school altogether and enrolled her in an alternative education program.

Candice has been a regular at the Youth Centre now for a while.  Most of the teens and volunteers don’t know the details of her story and those she has shared with continue to work with her regarding self-image, self-worth, healthy living, and most importantly, her identity.  She is learning how to forgive others as well as forgive herself. She is learning that she is not defined by her past but instead looking to the future and what good lies ahead.  She is coming to understand that her value and worth is not dictated by others but in who she is and who God has created her to be.

Candice is no longer hiding!  She is finding hope!

 

Sincerely,
Michael Burns
Director, RE:SOUL Youth Centre / YFC Milton

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