I’ve written twice before about Lessons in Caring and all of these articles are about different aspects of building character. Character is a top priority for me in rearing my children. I believe that there is no way to build a strong character without teaching them to focus on and consider other people, but also to teach them to care deeply about what they know about themselves – NOT about what others think about them. I want to teach them to treat others how they should, but to value their own self-esteem over the typical negative self-thought that society tries to impose on them.
It seems there is little to no compassion or understanding in the world anymore. Bullying is out of control. No one seems to be taught to think about what another person may be going through or what another person might have already been through in their lives. It pains me to realize how cold and cruel young people have become and it makes me wonder where the parents are. What are we doing wrong? Where are we failing?
I had a conversation with my 15 year old daughter recently in which she was telling me about promiscuous girls at her school and I had to explain to her that girls don’t just choose to be that way. They are guided into that type of lifestyle by their experiences – they are taught that type of lifestyle by their examples. And unfortunately sometimes they are dragged into that type of lifestyle by their environment. I’ve said it a thousand times – too much freedom and too little supervision is a combination that can be deadly for our youth, and it happens all too often. Daddy is missing. Mommy is working. Or daddy’s in jail and mommy’s an addict. Or daddy’s abusive and mommy feels powerless. Or whatever the situation might be, the parents are preoccupied or simply don’t care.
There are many scenarios that I’m grateful my children will never know anything about, but it’s my job to teach them to be sensitive about what the possible life experiences are for these young people. The thieves. The thugs. The troublemakers. The “thots” and the girls that are looked upon as trashy. The ones who smoke in the bathroom or who fight and lash out at anyone they believe might let them feel powerful. Because their power has been stripped from them in other areas of their lives. This is what I teach my children. To try to understand. To have compassion. To defend themselves when necessary, but to be considerate of what someone else’s struggles might be.
Why do I teach them this way? Because my kids don’t have those kinds of struggles and it’s up to the kids who do NOT have those struggles to make it a little easier for the kids who do… because those kids cannot control what is happening to them or what is going on in their families and they aren’t mature enough to process their pain any better than the fighting or the stealing or the outward acts of anger and defiance or giving themselves away to other people, or to drugs, or to whatever helps them feel some relief. We may not ever understand what drives people to do the things they do or react the way they react, but COMPASSION doesn’t require understanding.
Many children – many PEOPLE, regardless of age – don’t know how to value themselves because they’ve been taught they have no value. This is the exact opposite of the privilege my kids have been raised in with parents who sacrifice FOR them instead of raising them to sacrifice themselves… parents who teach them how much worth they possess rather than taking every ounce of pride they manage to muster.
How do we do it? How do we get back to the village? Where are we missing the mark that we’ve raised a society of lowered standards – youth who are giving up with no one around them encouraging them to carry on or pushing them to finish strong? What is happening that causes us to teach our kids to ignore the mean girls and not to love the bullies? Children who need love the most often act in the least loving of ways. I believe in hard love and I’ve been there for the promiscuous 5th grader – chastised and even spanked a child that didn’t even belong to me, but LOVED and showed another way. Whether she accepted it or not, she experienced love and knew that someone saw her. Someone saw her as more than anyone else ever had. I’ve also been there for the shiftless middle schooler who can’t seem to find worth in anything except whatever boy will show her attention and I’ve given her hard truth, but have also LOVED and showed another way.
It’s up to us to teach our children how to recognize when someone needs someone – and to answer that call without thinking about what someone else might think about them, because they’ve been taught to value what they know about themselves over anything else. It’s up to US to teach them to choose the right thing over the popular thing. How do we do that? By example. And by the looks of things overall we’re failing, miserably.
The thing is, if we as parents are fearful of these children and write off their merit or their worth in this society, what happens to them when their own parents gave up a long time ago? When we teach our children not to care, what exactly are we teaching them at a deeper level? Sometimes we need to check ourselves and remember that we are raising the ones who will shape the world as we know it for future generations so we have a responsibility to everyone to deposit into it caring, compassionate, and understanding individuals. Sometimes, “Stay away from kids like that,” isn’t the best message. There are times when, “Love kids like that,” is what will heal the world… and teach our kids to have a strong sense of character. Integrity.
It’s important to teach them to not be walked over, to be strong, to be confident, and not to engage themselves in relationships that are toxic. But not everyone who seems volatile is toxic and not everyone who lashes out is actually out to hurt them. Discernment is another characteristic that should be encouraged, but above all we must teach them to think deeper than the surface vision allows.