Last year, I wrote a post addressing the 10th anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School. Eleven years later and just today on the news they ran a story about two students from Miami who were brutally beaten in separate incidences but attended the same school. As well we see and hear the echoes of the devastating story of Phoebe Prince, the girl who committed suicide as a result of extreme bullying. I am re-posting this story because we as parents, teachers, school administrators and as students, are missing something. Our children are in terrible pain and it's not just the victims but the very offenders, the inflicters of this pain, are in pain themselves. I think many of our fellow parents are afraid to parent, are afraid of their children and for some, really don't know or don't care who their children are becoming. We are not learning as a society how to look for cues and communicate effectively based on those cues. The country has acted swiftly yet again with bullying seminars but I think we need to look beyond this. These incidents reflect the essence of what we are not talking about. Bullying is rooted in low self-esteem and it's not just the victim but the bullies themselves who have low self esteem and believe me, it is not school alone that creates these feelings of inferiority. We are raising a generation of children with little confidence and lots of anger. We must look at our children and ourselves and watch closely. I think we, as a culture, need to rethink what we feel we are entitled to, how we cope with stress, prioritize our wants and desires and develop some real strategies for how we deal with disappointment. Making sense of, or categorizing, these egregious tragedies is complicated and I am not going to try to explain why they may have happened but I know I can play my part and you can play yours too.
This week again marks the anniversary of the Columbine massacre. While I will not attempt to analyze the actions of the boys responsible or debunk any theories of why this terrible tragedy took place, I will comment on what the situation and other situations like this make me think my responsibilty is as an educator and parent.
Know your child
One of the greatest mistakes I see parents make is not understanding who their children are. This creates an inability to parent effectively. To be an effective parent we must try and learn who our children are and provide them with encouragement, access to tools and therapy to help them establish their self esteem and yes, provide them with discipline. Contrary to what many believe, discipline is not a "punitive" word, it comes from the Latin meaning, "to teach". We must teach our children, if they are to succeed. We must not be afraid to address our children's undesirable behaviors in an effective and honest way without cutting them down. Children need to learn what will be tolerated and practice acceptable behaviors. If we don't try to look objectively at our children, it is much harder to provide them with what they need.
Kids are different and we need to parent differently
If your child is aggressive and angry, then you must acknowledge it, discuss it and get professional help for both you and your child, if need be. Anger needs to be channeled into positive avenues and power and control need to be discussed as responsibility. If your child is shy or has social anxiety you must build them up and encourage them to be stronger. Look to find activities that they can succeed at, hook them up with strong mentors and coaches and provide opportunities to make friends that make them feel good. Discuss honestly about tools that will help your child so they are less likely to be a victim of bullying.
I have three children and their personalities are completely different. I sometimes try (I don't always succeed), to make decisions based on my child's individual needs rather than what might work for the group. For example, one of my children felt uncomfortable when we went to the playground on the weekends and going up to classmates and asking "do you want to play?" So I began allowing him to bring walkie-talkies, remote control cars and other inexpensive activities so that the group came to him. It helped break the ice and he left feeling good that he provided the day's activities. Parents need to think outside the box and try different strategies to reach their children. Your ideas won't work all the time but don't stop searching!
Teach Responsibility Now
While adults are the leaders in a child's life it is not too early to begin impressing upon school aged children that everyone is responsible for their own safety and behavior as well as those of our peers. Teach children that they don't have to feel alone or isolated and this little gem: "Tattling is to get someone into trouble, telling is to get someone out of trouble." When we make children responsible for their behavior we help them to develop self confidence, the root of of all happiness in its greatest form.
Media is not real life, teach the difference
My college education and technology professor said "It's not just the shows that are too much for kids, these days; it's the commercials that make promises to kids that are undeliverable." Every moment I feel we are marketed to and sent the message "you need, you want, you should be like, you have to have." And, if I don't get or don't become, I'll be left out. If I feel this way I know my kids feel it that much more. Be your child's reality check; not every icon, toy, video game or celebrity has it all. Talk about unrealistic incidents that are depicted on a show or in a movie, discuss unrealistic expectations, point out why you find a celebrities behavior inappropriate. Discuss honestly about why certain items are allowed into your home, certain articles of clothing won't be worn by your child and why some television shows or movies get a nod and others are forbidden. They may disagree but having an honest discussion does a lot more than just "I am the parent, that's why."
So in reflection of this heartbreaking tragedy and unfortunately the many others that have followed with terrible outcomes, I look to parents to learn, to know, to accept, to discipline and love their children so our children can learn, know, accept, discipline and love themselves.
I wish for all our children the ability to be confident. Only then, will they be happy.