February 15, 2018

On Treating Children with Respect and Dignity

I'm not a psychologist. I'm not an expert on child development. I'm not even actively parenting a child these days as my boys are grown and gone - off living their own beautiful lives! This post is me putting my thoughts into writing. It's a loooong and wordy post - about a topic that is usually not my thing - but I have words that I feel have to be said, and hopefully they will be heard.

After yet another school shooting, I see so many people in an uproar about gun control - and rightfully so. There is a need for tighter gun control laws here in the U.S. without a doubt. But I feel like there is also a need for us to address something that's impossible to regulate... the way that we treat our youth in this country, especially in schools.

Our kids are expected to, at an incredibly young age, conform to a set of behaviors and social norms that we as adults would never be able to manage. Each day, when they enter a school building, they hand over all of their personal freedoms. They have to ask for permission to take care of their basic human needs. To go to the bathroom. To feel like they are being heard. To show excitement or even happiness is frowned upon, and even punishable.

I recently had the opportunity to share lunch with about 100 kindergarten and first grade students. These were LITTLE kids who had been in class for hours and were getting their first break of the day... yet they were expected to walk in a straight line, sit at the table and eat quietly without standing, talking too loudly, etc. The little guy who was sitting right next to me could NOT sit still. He was adorable and funny, and I didn't think he was doing anything wrong at all, yet he was constantly being reminded to "make good choices" by the staff. Before lunch was over, he was sent to the principal's office. I guess he didn't make a good choice. Turns out he is a "regular" in the principal's office. HE IS IN KINDERGARTEN!

I read an excellent article on Motherly called Remember: Your Child is Human Too. They share a quote from a book called The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting.
“So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes. Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves.”
The older our kids get, the worse things get. By the time they are in junior high and high school it is expected that they not only know all of the rules and obey them at all times, but that they also take part in extracurricular activities, have an active social life, maintain a high GPA, and are model students. The immense pressure that they are under would break many adults. Not to mention the total lack of respect they are shown by adults. 

I work at home and I occasionally have been known to tune into daytime television, including the Dr. Phil show. The episodes that break my heart the most ALWAYS are the ones that show an out of control teen who screams at their parents, refuses to go to school, becomes violent, and the parents can no longer handle living with them. Fast forward 15 minutes into the show to find that the parents have been screaming at this kid since they were toddlers, the kid has been bullied and/or abused at school, and that mom and dad have resorted to violent behavior in the past in an attempt to control them. In every case, the child is sent off to a rehabilitation facility for "treatment" that includes medication and intense therapy before it is safe for them to be reintroduced into society. SERIOUSLY?

What if instead this young adult was allowed to have a voice and be heard so that they wouldn't have to scream? What if there was an alternative place for these kids to learn instead of massive schools that resemble prisons? What if they were treated like human beings?

I have personally been in a relationship where I felt controlled. My every move was questioned. My behaviors were constantly criticized. I had no say in decisions that were being made around me. I wasn't valued, loved or appreciated. Thankfully I was able to get out of that relationship, but I feel like that's how we treat kids every day in schools all across the country, and they aren't allowed to leave.

Perhaps the best article that I found is on Racheous, called The Dehumanisation of Children.
"Humans don’t like being controlled. Children, like all humans, resist control... Children don’t need to be controlled and forced and punished to learn. Children learn what they live... Children don’t need to earn their humanity... Society treats children as though they’re preparing for a time where they’re allowed respect – and not before then. Until that time it’s acceptable to treat them as sub-human under the guise of parenting and education."
I'm not out to shame teachers. I know how difficult their jobs are and how little they are paid. I'm not out to shame parents either. Being a parent is one of the most amazing, overwhelming, impossible things I've ever done.

All I'm asking is for everyone to consider for a moment that when a child feels so broken that they no longer see their peers as human, perhaps it is because they have not been treated as a human themselves. Perhaps they have not developed empathy because they have not been treated with compassion. Perhaps they don't value the lives of others because they feel that their own life is worthless. 

What can we do, as a society, to make sure that our kids never grow to the place where they feel the need to carry a gun with them to school and destroy so many lives? Having access to weapons is certainly part of the problem, but these young adults are telling us, over and over again, that they are broken. We have got to start listening. 

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