Film dramatizations can be powerful. Think Schindler’s List. By telling stories based upon real-life events, the public gains perspective. In turn, more individuals think outside the box.
But what about early childhood trauma? Could a 100-minute feature film about a severely neglected and abused boy accurately depict the challenges?
The answer is yes.
Recently my three youngest sons and I have watched The Boarder – known on LMN Lifetime as Troubled Child.
Each is a survivor of early trauma. Each lives with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder.
And each survived a decade with two siblings whose behaviors paralleled teenager Carl, the film’s lead character (brilliantly played by Andy Scott Harris). Eventually he’s diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder
“Two thumbs up!” gave my youngest son.
All agreed that the plot is authentic and the fall-out well-sequenced. Executive producer Jane Ryan, who raised several traumatized children, packs loads of material into the rapidly moving scenes – which might prove frustrating to hungry viewers wanting every last detail.
Nevertheless, the film shows intense emotions with amazing accuracy – particularly for the less-informed. Many are raw and might be difficult for some parents to watch. No wonder the film won numerous awards.
Carl’s behavior was no big surprise to my children. He puts on the charm – especially for his new dad (played naively by Carlton Wilborn) and a misinformed therapist who talks down to his new mom (portrayed broken and guilty by Leslie Stevens).
I only wish the word “triangulation” had been used. That’s when the child pits two adults against one another to avoid ownership of behaviors.
Shortly into the film, Carl’s dark side emerges – from passive aggressiveness and outright threats to carefully orchestrated lies and unspeakable violence. The ongoing flashbacks reinforce the devastating and lasting effects of early trauma.
That’s when my sons then asked, “Were we left alone like Carl when we were babies? Did we fend for ourselves?”
When I answered “yes,” a flood of questions led to a healthy discussion about the origination of their fears.
Carl’s new mom, not surprisingly, takes the brunt of his abuse in one scene after another – sometimes subtle, other times blatant. The unraveling of her happy, stable life – until she loses it with her husband – hit close to home. I’ve been on the brink more than once.
On-screen chemistry between Stevens and Wilborn is convincing – a real family struggling with surprises, increasingly frequent. Equally genuine are Carl’s frustrated siblings – one biological and one adoptive.
Interestingly, the most powerful scene for my sons is the mom learning about Carl’s past, after demanding access to records. She combs hundreds of pages – at last gaining insight to explain his irrational behaviors.
“Is that why some people treated you bad?” commented my middle son. “They didn’t want to hear the truth. And blamed you instead.”
My efforts suddenly seem heroic to them.
Although the dad’s character is strong, he left my sons chuckling more than once. Carl constantly manipulates him, amid his spiritual arrogance and steadfast reluctance to recognize facts.
Oh, the irony as my sons shared several stories with me about their two siblings – ones that had long remained a mystery, without hard evidence.
In addition, a handful of scenes hit upon a great frustration felt by parents. Many people – even trained professionals – quickly believe the child’s fabrications, rather than consulting with the adult in charge.
Most importantly, The Boarder gave my sons a voice. They aren’t the only ones who struggle.
To order your own copy of The Boarder, click here. The DVD is an inexpensive way to educate family members, friends, church members, neighbors, teachers and social workers. Not all children end up like Carl – but a number will unleash some of the same behaviors.
Personally, I’ve watched once than once – each time seeing something new. Near the film’s end, the interaction of a diverse group of families and a highly trained clinician (expertly done by Dee Wallace) underscores the hard truth. Our stories are remarkably similar. None of us are alone.
After loss, betrayal and blame, families need hope.
They also need the appropriate tools to parent differently. And be therapeutic! All children aren’t resilient. Healing takes time and significant family effort. Emotional scars linger – sometimes for a lifetime.
One important note – the film doesn’t delve heavily into treatment. There simply isn’t enough time. For information on available options, visit the Attachment and Trauma Network website here.
Finally, thank you to Jane Ryan for bringing early trauma to life. My children will never forget watching The Boarder with her in our family room and picking her brain over a very special weekend.
Their stories are her story – and probably yours too. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
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