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Social Issues: The Children Are Our Future
Another school shooting has occurred and our hearts are shattered. Finding words to express our grief seems impossible and yet many of us are compelled to write; to offer something, however small, that makes sense of something senseless. We stare frozen at the images on our televisions that no human should have to see and we ask ourselves, what is the answer for our children? How do we make them feel safe again? How do we stop this madness?
It is our nature to want to blame something or someone. It is our nature to scream for change in our laws or to limit the power of special interest groups that lobby to keep our constitutional rights intact. It’s a natural response to an event so horrid that we can’t wrap our brains around it’s magnitude.
Like so many others, I am compelled to write today. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t change what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. I can’t bring those beautiful children back. I can’t make the hearts of those families whole again. I am helpless to bring healing to a community that has been changed forever. But, I can write. I can ask questions and offer thoughts that may make a difference in the way another family is dealing with one of the problems that seem to be consuming the youth of our society.
Our children are our future. It’s not just a popular phrase. It is a fact. They will one day be our leaders and our caregivers. As adults living in a civil society, it is our responsibility to teach them and give them a safe environment to grow up in. We are failing miserably and there is no single answer. We are failing them in too many ways.
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Everyone wants to blame someone else for everything. But, who is really to blame for the tragedies that take place?
We need to ask ourselves if we are really parenting our children or, are we letting society do the job? Our kids don’t need us to be their friend. They need us to be parents. They need us to discipline them, to teach them right from wrong, and, to let them experience the consequences of making the wrong decision. But many of us are letting childcare workers and schools do our job while we concentrate on being our children’s friend. Our children need to learn to respect authority and fear consequences. Those lessons need to begin at home.
How many of us have the guts to take away cell phones or cars when our children make bad decisions? Do we suspend social activities when grades fall below our expectations? Are we forcing our kids to participate in extracurricular activities (sports, dance, clubs, etc.) to satisfy our own social needs? Are we making them so competitive that the occasional failure destroys their self-esteem? Do we buy their way out of trouble with the money we’ve made working overtime instead of spending time with them and keeping them out of trouble in the first place? Are we afraid to spank them for fear that the courts will take them away?
Obviously, I have more questions than answers but I think we need to ask ourselves these questions. I know times have changed but it seems to me that some of the old principles of parenting worked a lot better than those being used today. As a rebellious teenager, I got my share of punishment for making bad decisions. My harshest punishment came when I didn’t respect the authority of my parents. I wasn’t allowed to participate in anything that interfered with having time to do my homework. Education came first.
Another priority in our family was religion. Until I became of age and could be responsible for making my own decisions, my parents felt it was their responsibility to build a religious foundation underneath their children. Sunday morning was reserved for a hot breakfast and church. There was no room for argument. Like it or not, we would get our Bible lesson on Sunday. Like it or not, we would sit quietly in church. Bad behavior in the church was not tolerated. Even if we didn’t pay attention, we absorbed my parent’s religion by osmosis. Prayer before a meal was mandatory. Meals were eaten together. In our family we ate and prayed as a family unit. This taught me from an early age to distinguish between right and wrong. I made some mistakes along the way but I knew the difference because religion played a big part in my childhood years.
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Although there are many questions of how parenting may be failing our children, there are an equal number of questions about how our environment is failing them. We would be foolish not to consider how the quality of our environment may be changing the chemistry in the bodies of our children. With more and more children being diagnosed with personality disorders such as ADD, ADHD, autism, anti-social personalities, manic depression, and schizophrenia, how can we not look to our food sources for answers?
Our society is too busy. Everyone has too much to do and too little time to get it done. We rely on fast food or prepared food to provide sustenance rather than nutrition. The majority of foods that are packaged are also loaded with chemicals that preserve them or add color, texture, or taste. Our meat is loaded with hormones to make it bigger faster and now we are faced with GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) being introduced into our food sources. Unless we are actively seeking whole, organic foods, we are poisoning our children and ourselves. We are creating a toxic environment in our bodies.
If eating poorly wasn’t dangerous enough, let’s add some of the other toxic exposures to the equation. Scented laundry detergents, scented air fresheners, chemical dyes for our hair: they all end up in our bodies. Now, add the pollution that comes in the form of our water and the air we breathe and you cannot deny that we are living in a toxic world. And, if we are honest, we have to admit that we don’t know what impact that is having on he cells in our children’s bodies that are still developing.
No discussion about the failure of our society to take care of our children can be had without also considering the government’s role. This section will not be popular with everyone but the questions have to be addressed.
Our mental health system is failing. It does not have the resources, either in personnel or funding, to take care of everyone that needs it. Case workers are overloaded and there are not enough programs to handle the load. And, we do not have legislation that takes away the stigma of mental illness or to provide protection for the mentally ill. The result is that many are walking our streets with untreated problems that medicine knows how to treat. We have to fill the cracks in the system and keep these kids from falling through.
Gun laws… yes, I have to address it. Our constitution guarantees us the right to own a gun and protect ourselves. Hunting and personal protection do not require assault weapons. Stiffer gun laws will not prevent the illegal trafficking of guns but, putting limitations on the amount of ammunition for assault weapons has to be considered. Would it prevent some of the massacres if only law enforcement or military personnel were allowed to purchase ammunition for assault weapons? I don’t know but I do know that we have to do something. Guns don’t kill, I know that. It takes a person to pull the trigger. But, there is a lot of money behind the gun lobbyists who influence our politicians and somehow we have to leverage that money and power with logic.
Finally, we have to examine our own responsibility in the decline of our society. We can’t keep turning a blind eye, thinking it is someone else’s problem. We must be willing to speak out when we see a potential problem and reach out to offer help. It has to start in our own family but must also extend to our neighbors and associates. When we find ourselves concerned about a neighbor and having the discussion in our own living rooms, we have to take a risk. It must be our responsibility to seek the help of authorities who are trained to determine if a real problem exists. We can’t be afraid of the consequences. If one child is saved, it is worth the risk. If an entire classroom of children is saved, then again, it is worth the risk.
We also need to look at our own children’s habits and hobbies. Are they obsessed with the violence on television or in video games? Have we noticed a change in the way they dress or in their moods? These things, although a part of normal teen behavior, can be red flags for a problem. We owe it to our children and neighbors to seek professional guidance from those who are trained to recognize behaviors that exceed normal teen behavior.
Finally, our ultimate responsibility is to be role models for our children. We need to engage them in our discussions, show them that adversity is part of life but how we handle it determines whether the result is positive or negative. Out kids need to see that it is okay to have a difference of opinion and that problems can be solved with open communication.
We have to teach our children to talk about their feelings. We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Never think that the child next door isn’t your responsibility. Never think that the moody kid on the baseball team isn’t your responsibility. Never think that the kid who tosses your newspaper just short of the porch isn’t your responsibility. These kids are all our responsibility. They are our future. They may be the kid with the bad attitude today but if we do our part, they may become the doctor that gets you through a surgery or the nurse that holds your hand through chemotherapy. If we do our part, they can become our city managers, or the scientist that develops a new method of capturing solar energy, or the next Rabbi in your synagogue.
Until we find the answers, we have to pray for healing and visualize love emanating from our hearts and enveloping the children of our society. We have to step out of our living rooms and give our time to our community. We have to be a beacon of hope or a friend that really listens. We can’t be afraid to give away a hug or a handshake.
There are new angels today and they will be looking at us to see what we’ve learned from another horrible tragedy. I pray we don’t disappoint them.
© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.