(THIS IS NOT A POST TO READ WITH A CHILD HANGING OVER YOUR SHOULDER. Adult content!)
You might wonder why this post is here, on a parenting blog. I just have to speak up and say something, because these things that have been happening involve children. Children are children until the age of 21, and the crisis that is occurring in the youth of the United States affects us all.
This has been a harrowing time for the United States, with mass public shootings occurring frequently, along with a culture of rape where 6 out of 10 women are raped in their lifetimes. There was an incident in my own state recently of a graduation party at a cabin that got completely and horrifyingly out of hand and ended in a young woman being gang-raped, presumably by people she probably thought were trusted friends. My heart just has been breaking for her, and it has been breaking for all of these incidents and the people involved on all sides, and especially for the parents of these children.
What can we do, as we raise this next generation, to curb and stop societal violence? How do we do it?
I have a few ideas that I have been germinating upon. They are in no particular order. Please add your own thoughts and suggestions in the comment box!
1 – Peace begins within ourselves and within our own homes. All of the things I write continually about inner work I think apply here. Heal yourself from your past, control yourself, restrain yourself, show and model this for your children. Help your children learn to control themselves. Thinking, feeling and doing should all be in balance. All of our children’s wants are not all of their needs. Use your spiritual path to help yourself and your children, and be home and present with your children and to help bring balance.
2. If you are married, put your marriage first. Help your spouse have an opportunity to parent with you. Happy mothers, fathers, spouses, families are so necessary.
3. Women especially need to model supporting other women. A little girl I know was recently told by her “friend” that she shouldn’t go to the pool with her mother because her mother was “too fat”. I guarantee the child who made this hurtful remark overhead her own mother or another woman tearing down the little girl’s mother due to her weight. We all would like to think that we don’t have the “mean girl” in our family, but make sure first you are not that mean woman. It is not okay. Let’s teach our girls to be nice to themselves and also to think of others and also to stand up for other women.
4. Teach our boys to be men of character. Not only teach our boys and young men not to rape, but teach them how to be protectors and how to do what is right. Give them purpose for their energy and drive rather than just handing everything to them. Teach them that a wonderful calling in life is to be a trusted, patient and gentle father and husband and to stand up for what is right.
5. Model that it is okay to accept authority, and that boundaries and authority can be a friend. It can absolutely be that things need to change at a societal level or that things aren’t perfect, but I think a basis of the very low base behavior we are seeing when things turn violent is someone feeling they are above the authority of not only outside authority, but above the authority of the family, the community and oneself.
6. Be part of a community; especially a religious or spiritual community that is not dogmatic but is beautifully life-giving to you and your family.
7. Foster wonder and reverence for all life, ESPECIALLY for the very young and for teenagers. It is so important. Parents need tools to understand child development, and to understand the interplay of technology and development, and the dangers of taking things and bringing the adult and teenager content further and further down to our young children. Parents need to understand the value of reverence, wonder and protection. There is a quote circulating around Facebook at the moment by Samuel Jackson, the actor, saying “I don’t think this is about MORE gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone. This [shooting]is about people who have not been taught the value of life.”
8. Support play-based preschool education for those children who must be in a school setting, especially for children coming from disadvantaged homes. The foundations for how we can interact and get along with those different than ourselves or in conflict is laid early. Put street games and games back in the lives of our school aged children and teenagers – not just adult-oriented and adult ruled structured sports, but games where children have to work things out.
9. Support integration of the arts into schools for children who have to be there, or whose families choose public or private education, along with school gardens and time for school children to be in nature. Support homeschooling – I really think this nation’s next generation of leaders will come from those who are currently being homeschooled because we have lost the balance in most of our schools, and are about skills and testing more than raising children who are ethical and moral human beings. I know families who successfully balance this whose children are in school, but I also know families who seem to use school as their home base with their family life as an afterthought. Strong leaders will come from strong families.
10. Get your children with other children and BE PRESENT. I am for children “working things out” in their play, but unfortunately, what I witness on almost a daily basis is the inability of children to play with a give and take. It almost seems that many children “play” in a mean way, a bossy way, a “I won’t play your game” kind of way with even sort of a bullying gesture present. Don’t hover, but do let them play and be nearby to help get the play unstuck. Nature is the best setting for this. Nature is the great equalizer. Until we have neighborhoods where children can roam day after day in a group and climb trees and catch minnows in a stream and learn how to play, we may have to be available to help them.
11. Teach your children about heroes and the value of stepping in to do what is right. Teach them about having integrity to do the right thing all the time, not just when someone is watching.
12. Mental health care is so important if a child is struggling, but something that was mentioned over and over again in the Santa Barbara shooting case was that the young man had a small army of therapists and mental health care professionals. I have absolutely no idea what should or could have been done differently in that situation… If you have experience in this area, please share what your experiences has been with mental care health for children. Yet, it is obvious his world so completely revolved around himself………. So how do we reduce this feeling that the world owes me, the world is for my taking with violence if something doesn’t go the way I want? Maybe we need the earliest of interventions for mental health challenges in our children, some sort of mental health screening that is done by pediatricians from the get go to help screen and refer, and to support whole families. I don’t know what that would look like….. probably, for me, it would be something for children to be in nature or a farm and in more unstructured settings.
13. Which brings me to this point: teach children life is not all about them, their wants and their needs. It is about helping others and making the world a better place. It is about having joy, being content, finding wonder in the small. It is about taking responsibility in our families and in our communities. Do your children have chores? Do you grow any of your own food? Is everything about the children’s sports and activities so that the family just revolves around that child’s schedule? I think families where the family is really together, multiple siblings are present, extended family is present can be important in reducing this feeling that the world should revolve around you. “Chosen family” made up of people in your neighborhood and place of worship can also serve this function if you are really close and can foster this in an intimate way.
14. Teach your children about being content with the small. Every time you are tempted to add another activity, another place to go, another chance to buy another thing for them to add to the pile of things they have, to plan an over the top birthday party for a small person when a cake at home with family would do, ask yourself, am I teaching my child to be content with the small? Or does each thing have to top the thing before? What will I do when my child is sixteen to top all of this? Does my child need to do this when they are eight years old or fourteen years old? This is my biggest beef about competitive sports and many other high-pressured activities for most children.
15. MEDIA. I remember traveling by plane last year at Thanksgiving. It was not a long flight, it was around dinner time, and I was horrified because the in-flight “entertainment” was sponsored by some television channel and the things they were showing were full of violence (but rated okay for all audiences because this is normal nighttime viewing??!!!) and there was no way to shield my children. It was unreal! When I go to the gym, there are twenty television screens in there playing music videos, most of whom feature beautiful women in scanty clothes. Is this really what the population of teenaged boys wandering around trying to lift weights need to see or hear? I am not for censorship, but since there aren’t really any family shows on television anymore (I don’t think there are; we don’t watch TV), I wish there were more incentives for people to make family oriented shows and movies, especially when I keep hearing statistics that 66 percent of American homes have 3 TV’s and that most homes keep a TV running on average 7 hours a day. Let’s put something worthy on there for these homes that keep televisions running.
12. And let’s give people an incentive to turn those screens off! Let’s start a public media campaign to get out and exercise as a family, and also to use the state and national park system! Again, connection to nature, the arts and each other can be such a salve.
I want to hear your ideas.