Role Reversal: How One of My Students Became the Counselor

Chocolate (1)

By Sabrina Bong — During Ash Wednesday, many of my students told me what they were giving up for Lent.

Some said junk food or soda. Some said gossiping, or biting their nails. One student even said he was going to give up homework (trust me, we squashed that idea pretty quick!) But for me, the most life-changing thing that someone suggested was food.

The student (let’s call her “Jenna”,) had come into my office with her best friend (she’ll be called “Amber.”) Amber was crying really hard. Immediately, I went into slight panic mode. Amber and I have a good relationship; she has been through a lot of struggles and I have been doing my best to help her through them. I was worried that something had happened with her family.

Instead, when I asked Amber what was wrong, she pointed to Jenna and said, “I just asked her what she wanted to give up for Lent. Tell Miss Bong what you said, Jenna.”

Jenna looked at me awkwardly before saying, “I’ve noticed that I’m bigger than all of the other girls in my class. And on my dance team. So I told Amber that I was going to give up food for Lent. That way, I’ll look like everyone else. Amber did it before, and now look at her. She’s beautiful and thin.”

My heart almost broke when I heard that. Jenna is about 5 foot 4, and nowhere near heavy. She has strong dancer’s legs. To me, she is a healthy weight. When I told her this, she reiterated that she was too heavy.

“But it didn’t work for me, Jenna,” Amber said, sobbing. “That isn’t how I got thin. That’s how I got hospitalized.”

“You don’t know what it’s like,” Jenna shot back. “The boys in class say I’m too fat. All the girls on my dance team judge me, because they’re all skinny twigs and beautiful. They get all the boyfriends, not me. I’m just the fat girl.”

Before I could hop in, Amber said in a firm voice, “Jenna, you don’t understand. Do you know what happens to your body when you starve yourself? It eats itself. It attacks the fat in your body, but then it attacks your muscles. You are an amazing person and not in the least bit overweight. But if you don’t believe me, here are some things you can do instead of starving yourself. You can eat healthy. You can work out more. Take your dog for a walk. But don’t think starving yourself is the answer.”

I remember looking at Amber, sincerely impressed. A lot of what she had just said to Jenna was exactly what I had told her earlier in the school year. I was surprised that she had remembered my advice, but also impressed by the way she said it. Here she was, counseling her friend, not needing any help from me. It was the most exhilarating feeling, having a student act as the counselor and repeat my advice.

We managed to convince Jenna to give up junk food for Lent, but not all food. As they were leaving, Amber turned me to me and said, “Don’t worry Miss Bong, I’m going to make sure she eats lunch. And you should call her mom so that she knows too. And if she stops eating, I’m going to come to you right away.”

I laughed. “Amber, you should be a counselor.”

She grinned and said, “I learned from someone awesome.”

How lucky am I? Have a blessed start to Lent!

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