We Have Failed Our Children

I just saw two brothers in my office this evening who had — between them, in a week — pushed a kid, accidentally slammed a kid’s hand in a locker, “jokingly” strangled a kid who was 3 years younger than him, and (seeing nothing wrong with it) twisted a male peer’s nipple, in a thing he joyously called “giving him a purple nipple”. Some of these incidents happened at school, some at another facility.

It occurred to me as we were talking to take another “tack” and — instead of explaining why their behavior was wrong (they couldn’t hear that), I explained why the adults around them thought it was wrong. I explained that we, as adults, wanted our children to be safe — no matter where they go, no matter what they do. If an adult runs the place and it’s a place for kids, we expect that they are safe, and that the adults in charge want them to be safe.  As adults, in order to keep them safe, we want to remove any child from their school who doesn’t let them feel safe. I told their mother about a recent Facebook post where I said, “Remember when ‘school’ and ‘shooting’ didn’t go in the samesentence?”. The mother’s hand shot up and she said, “I do!” and the boys said, at the same time, “I don’t!” and it was true.

We adults further explained that when we went to school, our parents wanted us to not worry about anything but school. A kid’s job was to play and have fun and, yes, get an education.  If we failed at anything, it should be school, not about behavior problems. Our parents could handle school things most of the time, but they weren’t really equipped to handle more than that. Mental illness was left to the professionals — counselors, psychiatrists, and police if it came out in behavioral ways. Parenting is hard enough. You shouldn’t need a degree to raise your child. If that is true then it’s even more true that you shouldn’t need a degree — or a team of people with degrees — to be a child.

Violence of the kind that we see nearly everyday now is still too much for us to handle. I was rocked for a full week when Newtown happened. If that’s the case, what must it do to a kid to live in a world where no place feels safe? I can’t imagine and they don’t have to — it is their real life.  We can harbor them some from it by doing proper things after a school shooting, but we have not taken away the reality that it happened the first time — and it happened on our watch.

Our standard response right now is to find out who to blame. Was it the crazy kid, his or her violent parents, their video games, some genetic defect in that particular child. We probe for clues in a school shooter’s “manifesto”. What we don’t do is look at ourselves. If my kid buys a flack jacket and builds bombs, my kid gets help long before they go to school and start making the world unsafe for others because your kid’s childhood is too important to be taken away — and vice-versa.

How did this happen? We don’t know because so far, we’re asking the wrong people. We are the parents. We are the non-parent adults. It’s our job to keep our kids safe, not the kids’ job.  There are those who want to blame it on guns. There are those who say, no, no, no. It can’t be that. There are those who want to blame it on violent video games. There are kids and corporations who say, It’s not that!”. There are some who blame it lack of mental health care, but we’re resistant to fixing that because it costs too much. There are some who say it’s due to bullying. Who do we ask to do the work of stopping bullying? Our kids and their teachers — while we pressure them both to get good grades on standardized tests or we’ll fire the teachers.

Here’s what I know: We live in a society where we don’t respect each other, where we don’t teach our kids to respect anyone, where “hate” is just as “valid” an emotion as “love” is, and the behaviors that come from that are thought to be just as valid — where conflict is entertainment, and “reality” tv shows want us to root for the person who betrays their family. Does it bother anyone else that Jerry Springer is on everyday? Or that shows for tweens don’t have any actual parents on them or that the kids are smarter than the parents — and we think that’s funny? Does it bother anyone else that adults try to make political points by being the most outrageous to become the next candidate for ruler of the free world?

I could go on for days with all the things that I think it could be, but none of that matters if we don’t fix itAnd instead of fixing it right now, we continue to blame others and other things. Whatever you think it is, do something about it. If your kid has a fascination with knives, stop them. If your kid orders flack jackets, take them away. If your kid has psychotic episodes, get them treated. If your kid is being bullied, stop it. If your kid is doing the bullying, stop it. If you discover plans about a mass shooting, destroy them. And if you’re not a parent, if you see bullying happening, stop it. If you see a knife or a gun, or a bomb, take the weapon and tell the kid’s parents.

Yes, I get it. The genie is out of the bottle, but wasn’t there a cap around here somewhere? And if it’s a demonic, vile, violent genie, do we really have to put it back in the area where our kids play? It is time for us to be responsible for the world we live in, and the children we bring into the world. Not just our children, but the very idea of their childhood, and our love/hate relationship with it is where the problem lies. Miley Cyrus is dying for our sins.

We, as adults, need to start acting like adults, so that our children live like children. Keep them out of our world, so that they can have their own. Let them have their own world for awhile. It’ll be gone soon enough due to natural causes like puberty.  Our children don’t need to compete over clothes or money or anything else. They don’t need to see porn. They don’t need to see drinking or drugs, even if we think, somehow, it makes them more “mature” to experience “adult” things. They don’t need to see us yelling at each other, or blaming each other, or acting like fools. That teaches them that yelling, blaming someone else, or being “out there” and drama is a good thing. Then we wonder why they don’t take responsibility, listen when we talk to them, or give up their own world of drama-as-fun.

I don’t know if this will work, but it’s the best place to start, because it’s the thing we have control over — and if it doesn’t work, we can at least say we tried.






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