Exploring Life After Life


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Violence in Our Schools

We behave in our civic and political lives as though anything goes, so long as it fits our side of the issues.  And we are endlessly surprised when our children show themselves to be heartless teasers, graceless winners, bitter losers, self-centered jerks – and occasionally killers.                                                                                               William Raspberry

 

One way to help our troubled youth is to begin looking at their disruptive actions. School violence is a microcosm of disturbances in society. What bothers us, bothers our children.

Violence occurs whenever anyone inflicts or threatens to inflict physical or emotional injury or discomfort upon another person’s body, feelings or possessions.                        (Violence in Schools: The Enabling Factor by Carole Remboldt)

Remboldt claims aggression is so prevalent in our society, as seen in the news, video games and movies, that we do not convey strongly enough that it is not an acceptable form of expression. Her book was published in 1994. The problems of today have roots that go back decades, probably longer. She states that while educators know what is going on in their schools, they often feel powerless to act. Tolerance and lack of action may be viewed as permission to be violent. This perceived consent encourages unintentional enabling.

Think about that and reread the quotation at the beginning of this piece. Do we as a society or individuals enable violence?

There is often a well-defined group of students involved in starting fights and threatening others. We know which kids in schools or at home are continually in trouble and creating problems. Too often bullying in the classroom, on the playground, or on social media is ignored. Whatever the reason, the result is the same – condoning violence.

We also know which kids are the outsiders that are picked on and ostracized. Their anger can escalate. It may not be the bully who is fighting or shooting, but the victim. We have seen this play out in recent shootings. While victims should stand up for themselves, have we failed to provide an effective way for them to do that?

The caution is to be aware of the potential for cruelty and not dismiss incidents for fear of getting involved or thinking “Oh, that’s just the way kids act.” All such acts or threats are serious.

Harming another or damaging someone’s property is an act of violence. But ridiculing someone is the same. Free speech is an important right but not an excuse for hurting another. What if we enforce this intolerance in our schools, in our homes and on social media?

Individuals must learn personal responsibility and understand the consequences of their actions. Knowing that schools and parents will impose those consequences is critical. If there is no commitment to enforcing a policy, the atmosphere is one of encouraging hostility. We know the policy of “If you see something, say something.”  Let’s add “If you hear something, say something.” What if we taught our youth that any threat or ridicule in school, at home, or on social media is unacceptable?

We can be role models by avoiding any physical or emotional aggression ourselves and by refusing to ignore such activities in others, especially in our children.  Each one of us has a personal responsibility to do that.

This material is revised from Chapter 2 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002).

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A Caring Adult

In this second article looking at helping our troubled youth, we recognize the importance of a caring adult in their lives. Our youth are the leaders of the tomorrow. They need help coping with a changing world.

Studies show that children who have a caring adult in their lives adjust better. They need positive and strong decision-makers. Every child must be emotionally connected to parents or, in their absence, another adult. At school, positive relationships with teachers are key to a student’s success. Teacher connections are more important than class size or any other factor in a student’s learning.

Children who are abandoned by parents, either physically or emotionally, or who are ridiculed by peers for being different need to know they are loved and that they are lovable just the way they are. Every child needs such an advantage.

Children tend to feel alone in their suffering. They are living in a world very different from the one in which many of us grew up, so we may have trouble relating to their feelings. They are faced with a world of violence and sex portrayed each night on television and on social media. They are growing up in a society in which roles are confused. Boys are told to be caring, while girls are told to be independent. The messages around them, however, don’t always agree. The media shows that girls must be attractive to males, so too many are bulimic, anorexic or on a diet. Boys feel pressured to make sexual conquests to prove their manhood. They are told to share emotions and be “strong,” yet are not shown how to do either. They know the difference between right and wrong but often choose incorrectly to fulfill misplaced expectations.

Depression among our youth is rising. Suicide is increasing. The number of abused children has jumped sharply. Depression is a serious concern and, if unchecked, can lead to drugs, violence or suicide. Drugs are often an effect, not a cause. More children spend too much time alone at home, and before and after school are the prime times for alcohol and drug abuse. We might want to change some of our own habits and question the excessive use of alcohol and other numbing substances that kids emulate.

Depression does not always require medication. Fewer prescriptions and more love might have amazing results. What if we put less emphasis on conforming and more emphasis on allowing and encouraging individuality. Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul explains that melancholy is a part of who we are. We might want to allow sadness to surface at times and not try to medicate it away.

Most teenagers who commit suicide have previously talked about it. We must listen and take their comments seriously. A mention of suicide does not mean it is a reality but it does mean that the teen needs someone to acknowledge her or his pain. Many see suicide as a possible solution. Too many are resorting to violence, even if it is self-inflicted.

Some of our brightest youth are questioning the purpose of their lives. Most of us weren’t that aware until college or beyond. Kids can accept that we don’t know and that we may also be struggling. They will not accept our dishonest and flippant responses. We can learn to listen without judgement  and to communicate honestly. We can admit that perhaps as adults we do not have all of the answers. We can be a caring adult and let them know that we love them unconditionally.

This material is revised from Chapter 2 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002)

 


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Diversity

This is the third article looking at how we can help our troubled youth deal with violence. If we want to encourage peaceful interactions, we must incorporate efforts into our daily lives that will teach them to accept all others, even those who look, think, feel or act differently. There is no excuse today for anyone to be guilty of discriminating behavior. Our task is to challenge ourselves each time we react to an individual based on color, race, background, gender, sexual preference or religion. An easy statement, a difficult task.

Diversity of thought, however, must be added to this discrimination list.  Too often we dismiss anyone whose opinion differs from ours. We seem to have developed an extreme intolerance for opposing political views, which is an understatement for what transpires within our current political arena. Passion for one’s beliefs is an asset. Using that passion as an excuse for belittling another or for inflicting violence is intolerable. We need to exhibit a civilized acceptance of others’ conclusions. How do we hope to pass any significant legislation, come to any compromise, or be role models for our young if we are so entrenched in our positions that we are unwilling to change or listen?

Politics is just one of the more obvious examples of thought isolation. Somehow we seem to be circling the wagons around a very small group of individuals in our lives who look and think like we do. What a small, boring, stifling, untenable and tension-filled world that would be.

The solution is not complicated. We could begin by incorporating the simple advice in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Some will remember when that book was popular in the 90s. Perhaps this is the time to revisit Covey’s ideas. He suggests that we expect a win/win solution by listening to others, understanding their opinions before reacting, then finding a solution that fits all views. What if we could teach our children such an approach. Not complicated, but effective. Beginning on a small scale might build the strength to resolve larger issues. What works in our daily lives with our kids at home and in school can be translated to a bigger picture. We just have to start somewhere, and start now.

Let’s focus on similarities, not differences. The workplace encourages competition, not cooperation. Business and politics, like sports, are too often about winning at all costs. Is this the message we want to impart to kids?

The argument has been that competition can be a motivating and positive force. While this is true, there must be balance. How often does competition force cooperation into a corner where it is ignored? Humans are cooperative creatures. We have a competitive streak, but this tendency does not have to, and should not, dominate.

We have been steeped in behavior that has turned combative over time. Turning to a more cooperative headset of teaching our kids to help their siblings, classmates and communities may have some surprising results and make us feel better than expected.

We can address the larger problem of troubled global and domestic terrorists, and all troubled young, by starting on a small scale. We can resolve conflicts within our families, our schools and our communities. We can accept others and not ridicule their ideas. We can question our role in enabling violence, remembering that:

Violence occurs whenever anyone inflicts or threatens to inflict physical or emotional injury or discomfort upon another person’s body, feelings or possessions.

(Violence in Schools: The Enabling Factor by Carole Remboldt)

 

This material is revised from Chapter 2 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002).