I just read this post on Scary Mommy, “Why I No Longer Tell My Child to be Inclusive and Kind” by Julee Morrison and I am pissed off enough to write about it. First, let me say that, as a marketer and a writer, I know that these headlines (accompanied by the sad child stock photos) are designed to incite emotion, clicks and comments. (That said, please forgive my stock photo, I don’t have a real one that truly fits this post and this one hit the mark for me.) On Facebook alone, there were thousands of comments on this article.
But this is not a post about marketing.
This is a post about taking back control as parents.
Look, I’m a parent of two teens, one of whom is special needs. I don’t write about that last part on my blog because it is not my story to tell and I respect my child’s privacy. I say this to clearly establish the fact that I understand to a heartfelt degree that there are people in the world who have huge struggles and deserve extra kindness. I’ve got 18 years under my belt on that personally, but that is a topic best kept for another post.
Both of my kids have been bullied, especially my special needs child, so I understand how the dark side of being “non-inclusive” hurts in a profound way. My kids have not always been perfect either, none are, and have probably hurt others along their journey to becoming adults. We are all guilty of this at some point or another. Including me. I will forever be haunted by the time a girl was taunted on the playground right in front of me and I did…nothing.
But it’s more complicated today than it has ever been.
Gun violence, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual predators, school shootings, bullying, mental health, gender, race, politics and religion are driving forces in our awareness and conversations today more than ever before. Our kids are growing up and dying in the crossfire of it all, trying to make sense of the insensible. As an adult, I am still trying to make sense of it all and I am struggling. Our kids struggling, too. Mightily.
- Every 100 minutes a teen takes their own life.
- Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
- About 20 percent of all teens experience depression before they reach adulthood.
- Between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time.
- Only 30 percent of depressed teens are being treated for it.
If our only message to our children today is: be inclusive and kind…than we are failing them miserably.
Hear me out.
I’m not an educator, (although I was an adjunct instructor and children’s writing tutor at one point). I am not a psychologist. I am a mom and a marketer. As a marketer, my job is to work with organizations who have complex businesses and solutions. My goal is to find a way to simplify their message and communicate it in a way that makes other businesses – business people – understand and yes, want to buy their products. (I got out of the consumer advertising business long ago because I could not stomach selling things to people that they didn’t really need.)
As a mom, part of my job is to help my kids understand a very complex world as simply as I can, in age-appropriate ways, so that they can find their way – a way that fits who they are as individuals and empowers them to be the best that they can be. Sounds esoteric, I know. But, honestly, that’s what drives me every day. I’ve thought about that since the moment I knew I was pregnant with my son eighteen years ago. I feel as strongly about it now as I did then.
From what I’ve learned in my tiny corner of the world, nothing – no problem – is ever as simple as it seems on the surface. So I am telling you now:
If you are sending your kids out into the world with the message to only be inclusive and kind, you are teaching them to be a dolphin in a world of sharks.
Think on that for a minute.
I am struggling, just like you, to find ways to make sense of it all. To try to find some order in the chaos. But most of all, I feel compelled to help my kids navigate this world they are both about to enter into. And I am terrified. Absolutely terrified.
I don’t have all the answers. Maybe you feel that way, too. I’m not even sure I have one good answer on a good day. Just today my sixteen-year-old daughter texted and asked for my four word # on what it means to be an adult for some Twitter thing and I texted back: #painintheass. Folllowed quickly by, “Sorry I don’t have something positive, it’s been an absolute shit day at the end of an absolute shit week. Ask me again on Monday.” (We speak pretty honestly and openly in my house, and I tell my kids that as a writer, I use all my words. Take it and judge it as you will. It sucks that I even have to say that but such is life today.)
But I want to share a few thoughts about what I try to teach my kids, because it is important that we talk about this without concerns about clicks or conversion rates or other marketing tactics that seem to be attached to so many inflammatory articles today.
You should know right now that I write this blog purely out of love, passion and my undying magical belief that good will conquer evil. (I’m an adult but still 5 in so many ways). I am not selling anything, promoting anything and I do this for free because I still believe that one person can make a positive difference in this world. That is my only motivation. That is the only reason why you may see ads on my blog, because I don’t pay extra to have them turned off since I am doing this solely because I believe in it and frankly, I’m a single mom and I can’t afford any extras.
But my point is…
We need to provide more guidance and direction to our kids.
Earlier now than ever before. If we do not, they will look elsewhere – to friends, SnapChat, YouTube, Instagram – sources for “guidance” are everywhere and kids will seek it out and it will shape their perceptions of the world and ultimately, who they are.
We can’t control the chaos outside. But we can control what happens inside our homes. And we need to do more. So much more. Myself included.
As parents – because I am first and foremost a parent — we have a responsibility to be that guiding force for our children. Not YouTube. Not Instagram. Not the Kardashians. You. Me. All of us. I’m not saying that any one of these things are the cause of all ills in our society. It’s so much more complicated than that. I am saying that we, as parents, need to step up today more than ever to be the guiding force that our children so desperately need us to be today.
So from that humble perspective, here are five things I believe we need to be teaching our kids today:
- Be Kind AND Be Aware. Since my kids were born, my two guiding principles have always been and will always be: be kind and be respectful. But kids also need to be taught how to be aware that there are people who will take advantage of that.We need to make them aware of “red flags,” teach them what they mean, and how to handle them when they come up. Red flags are warning signs of potentially dangerous behaviors – this is an age-appropriate and broad topic that I can’t possibly cover here, so I encourage you to research it further.
Special needs note: I use the term “special needs” loosely here because it applies to so many people in so many different ways, so please apply this to your unique situation. As a special needs parent myself, I have always felt that my time and energy has been best spent in empowering my child to handle the world, rather than expecting the world to accommodate my child. This includes teaching my child to be their own advocate and all of us (my child, their sibling, and me) helping others understand my child’s differences and needs in a kind and respectful way. It requires patience and an understanding that not everyone can know everything about everything or know how to handle people who are “different” from what they know – this is especially true when it comes to kids. It’s our job to pave the way for inclusion. This is just part of being a parent to a special needs child. I choose to focus on what I can control and go from there.
- Be Self Protective. We have to help our kids understand where the lines are – that they should be inclusive and kind, but they must also learn to trust their own instincts and listen to that inner voice we are all born with that tells us when anything doesn’t “feel right.” It’s not selfish, it’s self protective. This is a critical point that needs to be made. It’s okay to say, this makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like it. And then tell them what to do when those lines are crossed – who they can go to for help to sort it out. Hopefully it’s you or another trusted adult.
- Say Something. We need to teach our kids to talk to trusted adults when they see someone being bullied or if they themselves are in a situation that doesn’t “feel right.” This is scary for kids – think back to when you were in fourth, seventh or tenth grade and how important your social standing was, how insecure you were. Knowing that if you say something, you might be the next target. Make it clear who they should talk to, encourage them to use anonymous reporting systems – whatever the means, they should tell someone when they see something that is not right.
- Talk to Me. I Will Listen. Create an environment where your kids feel comfortable sharing with you what they see, what they think and how it all makes them feel. It may mean that you spend two hours letting them vent. Listen. Resist the temptation to jump in and solve the problem (this gives them space to develop their own reasoning powers, critical for those times when shit happens and you are not there to give them the answers). Ask questions. And mostly listen. As long as it takes. Whatever it takes. Show them that you care. Prove to them that you hear what they are saying. I’ve heard it said that when kids have one person, it can make all the difference in the world. (I am living poof of this.) When a person feels heard, it can change everything.
- Question Everything. If you are leaving your child’s education solely in the hands of others, you are doing your children a huge disservice. Do not teach your kids to simply accept what they are told from anyone. (I may get a lot of shit about this one. Bring it.) This is a complex one and requires diligence, education and guidance on your part as a parent, because kids are not equipped to fully understand this and apply it on their own.The goal is to teach them that they should never simply accept what anyone says as “gospel truth.” Rather, they need to think about what they have heard and weigh it carefully with what they believe, validate it with trusted resources (hopefully you) and decide for themselves what they really think and believe – and then choose their course of action. Think before acting – isn’t that what we all need to learn to do better? I know I do. I work on this every day. It’s really hard. And I’m an adult. 🙂
This is not a one-size-fits all list. This is not my attempt to say “here is the answer to everything and all it takes is five easy steps!” Like I said, it’s complicated. There are many factors involved, and I’m just a mom who is trying to do my best to help my kids navigate this crazy world. But one thing I know for certain…
Nothing is ever simple or easy when it comes to human beings.
Or if politicians take over in trying to control us. I give you this article on the self esteem movement as a prime example: How the Self Esteem Craze Took Over America and Why the Hype was Irresistible. Read and add this to your simmer pot of thoughts about your parenting strategy and who or what you let influence it.
As my dad can attest, I have never just done what I’m told without questioning everything. Bless his 86-year-old heart for putting up with me. 🙂
I will say this though: if we continue to rely on politicians or articles like the Scary Mommy one noted in the opening to form our opinions and parenting approaches… if we leave our children in the hands of just anyone without ensuring that they are good guardians…if we do not give them loving, caring, informed guidance and direction from a source of love, truth and logic – we are failing our kids.
I welcome your thoughts on this post. It is designed as a starting point for an open and what I believe to be an important conversation. Peaceful, positive and helpful, please and thank you. There is enough hate in the world, let’s not feed that, yes?