Every other day, I have been tracking the news story of Elizabeth Thomas, the young teen who was kidnapped by her teacher Tad Cummins from Tennessee.
Parents across the country are shocked that this could have happened. The term “grooming” is a word often used when an adult figure manipulates, deceives, and earns the trust of the victim through various forms of coercion.
Sadly, more and more authority figures are “grooming” young teens at their most vulnerable times. It can happen in schools, churches, and sports teams. Many have questioned or made statements about Elizabeth Thomas such as, “She chose to be with him,” or “She can run away.” However, they do not understand the psychological control this teacher has over her that started a long time ago under the guise of a teacher mentoring a student in school.
Teens don’t just jump into a relationship with someone older. There are many factors when combined set the perfect stage for the grooming of the victim.
So what types of teens are targeted for grooming?
- Teens with insecurities such as body issues, low self-esteem, feeling not smart enough
- Authority figures who have knowledge of the teen’s problems at home
- Teens of divorced parents in which the teen feels neither support
- Teens who is motherless or fatherless
- Teens who are sheltered and naïve to the way of the world
- Teens who are curious and willing to try or act out risky behaviors
- Teens who are people pleasers and have trouble turning someone down
- Teens who struggle in relationships within their family or friends
- Teens who want or seek attention because they feel deprived of it
- Teens who have been abused – mentally, emotionally or physically
- Teens who never felt truly loved by the very ones they wanted love from – family
- Teens who are loners and have no connecting friends or family to spend time with
- Teens who gravitate to adults more than their peers
- Teens who are easily influenced or naïve
- Teens who have experience abuse
Once the teen has gained a strong tie with the perpetrator, they have an alliance with them and see them as the victim. This is the beginning of mind control. The perpetrator will convince the victim how difficult their life is. They will tell the victim stories saying that they were abused, not loved, not special, and rejected. Some will go as far as sharing horrific stories to encourage the victim to feel sorry for them. They will deceive the victim into believing that the perpetrator’s family was unloving, uncaring and un-sympathetic to their problems. This is especially true if the perpetrator is married. The perpetrator’s job is to convince the victim that they need their love and devotion to help them survive and that they can’t go on without them. They can also use physical threats or emotional manipulation to keep the victim close at all times.
If the perpetrator is desperate, they will tell the victim that they will harm themselves if the victim tries to run away or leaves them. The majority of people believe that the victims are only girls. Statistics are on the rise of young teen boys to be victims as well.
In the 2015 article by Elizabeth Kolze in Vocativ Newsletter, it was stated that there were 781 cases of teachers sexually assaulting students in one year. We have indeed reached a crisis. READ ON…
As parents, we want to protect our hurting teen even more these days. So what do we do?
Communication is the biggest key in reaching your hurting teen. Talking about the story of Elizabeth Thomas and getting their input can be the open door of talking about this topic.
There are some other things you can do if you sense any red flags from the target points above.
- Teens are very blunt in sharing who they like and don’t like at school when it comes to teachers and other authority figures. Keep your ears open for anything that doesn’t sit right about the situation or discussion.
- Check his/her social media to see if there are any adults on there that shouldn’t be.
- Check their phones. Whether you paid for the phone or not, you have the authority as a parent over the phone. Teens can hide information through apps. Learn as much as you can about the most popular apps that teens use and then investigate.
- Find out what guidelines and safety practices are in place between school authorities, counselors, coaches, and mentors with teens. For example, no private emails or cell numbers with those in authority, computers should be visible and only on programs that do not have internet available at the schools. Each school district has their own set of rules. Ask!
- Spend more time with your teen – if you are not able to, have a family member or someone you have great confidence in, to take the opportunity to encourage them in their goals and aspirations. You can also do fun outings, help them find a job, volunteer as a local community event, etc… The idea is to keep them from reaching outside to others instead of in towards family.
- Look for behavior changes such as how they dress, wanting to impress adults, asking for time to spend with a teacher on projects, etc…
Although we can do the best that we can to protect our hurting teen, some things are bigger than we can see or handle. Another course of action is to pray for discernment and protection. As a parent, there have been many times in which I prayed for this and God clearly came through in ways that I didn’t expect and was thankful for later on. God wants us to ask for wisdom. Getting counsel from therapists and clergy was a great source and support during those times of concern and needing help.
God does not want us to live in fear either. He has given us the tools to keep our children protected – through prayer and utilizing His Word each day as part of our daily armor in the battle over our children. Pray using the scriptures for your teen. It is the BEST weapon you have against the enemy.
In closing, please pray with me as I lift up Elizabeth’s crisis situation so that we can see her come home as quickly as possible.
We pray with hearts of concern for Elizabeth. We do not know where she is or how much danger she is in. You, O Lord, know exactly where she is and how to bring about safety for her. We ask that truth would be revealed of her kidnapper and to give her an opportunity for escape out of this entrapment. Father God, put the right people in her path to guide her to the right place where she can be helped and cared for. Protect her on all sides with Your guardian angels. When she is weak, build her with strength. When she is unsure of what to do, give her wisdom. Let peace reside over her family. Those who work in investigating, provide tips that will lead to her return. We know Heavenly Father, that You are ALL seeing and ALL knowing. We will trust in You as we await for her return. Completely we give her into Your hands.
UPDATE 04-20-17 – Authorities arrested Tad Cummins and rescued Elizabeth Thomas in CA today. Thank you Lord for answered prayers. Continued prayers for the family as allegations of abuse from one parent have been exposed.