When a Child’s Heart is Compelled to Make Grown-up Choices

The two classes I had just taught at the high school went great. The students were engaged and asked many relevant questions. As a facilitator, I felt our Keeping Students Safe curriculum on Human Trafficking was being well received by the students, and they were understanding the core concepts regarding students who had been trafficked.

But the 3rd period class taught me a lesson I will never forget…


It all began when we started to discuss “risky behaviors” and how those behaviors can lead to students being trafficked.  A young man with piercing brown eyes kept his gaze on me with laser-like focus. Though other students raised their hands to answer or ask questions, his hand never raised….but his eyes never left me.

I have been working with students long enough to know that when their eyes stay on me, a question is lodged deep in their heart. They just don’t know how to articulate it.

I began to paint a picture of what exploitation and trafficking can look like when it happens to boys. I shared with the students that sometimes due to economic concerns within a family, some boys might feel compelled to help, especially if they are now “the man of the family.”

That example seemed to open the door for the boy with the piercing brown eyes.  He slowly raised his hand and asked me one of the most difficult questions I’ve ever heard.

He asked, “what do you do, when you are the man of your family and they need money to eat, but your dream is a diploma?  How do you help them, but stay in school, too? 

He went on to say, “Miss, I understand what you are telling us. But you have to understand, sometimes the choice to say ‘no’ isn’t that simple.”

I could feel my own eyes begin to mist, as this child looked at me, desperately seeking an answer.  I wanted to hug him and never let go, but I knew I had to be strong for him. Already, at his tender age, this child was having to be strong for an entire family…

This is a painful example of choices our children feel they have to make.  This is what happens when the heart of a child is compelled to make a grown up choice.

This boy desperately desired to become an educated member of our society, but he also felt the burden of doing everything he could to help provide for his family.  In his mind, allowing himself to be exploited was his only option to help his family while also making his own dreams come true.

Being exploited would put food on the table and keep him from being another high school drop-out. 

Being exploited was a secret he could keep, if it meant his little sisters not going to bed hungry.

Many of our boys are at risk, just like our girls. We must recognize that our boys want to cry out, and speak in a way that allows them to feel safe to share.

As for the young man with the piercing brown eyes, I could tell my answer was only partially satisfying. I couldn’t tell him what he needed to hear. I couldn’t tell him his family would never go hungry again. 

But I did learn a lesson that day.  This young man’s question filled me with a tenacity to be better for our students.  A commitment to come armed with knowledge of resources for families who are suffering, whose basic needs are not being met. A drive to train as many students as I can, so they know that the heart of a child should never have to make such grown-up choices.

By Sonya Brooks

Director of Youth Prevention

Unbound Fort Worth


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