Thursday, August 21, 2008

Give Kids A Chance

Are you aware that the most under used, wasted natural resource in this country is not the elderly, or parents, or any minority group. It is our children. So many great ideas, so much energy, so much boundless idealism. So much limitless potential. Why don’t we enlist our children’s help more often?
Much of the answer lies in some old beliefs we have about children that we haven’t let go of yet. Beliefs like children should be seen and not heard. Beliefs that say that kids are just lumps of clay that we need to mold, inferring that they don’t have a spirit and a purpose of their own. Beliefs whereby parents say that there is only one way to do things in this world, and that’s the right way, which is naturally my way! It wasn’t really until the late 60’s and early 70’s that professionals like Dr. T. Berry Brazelton convinced us that infants could not only see and hear but also actively elicit responses in their parents. So our limited and limiting understanding of children’s emotions and capabilities is, in a sense, in it’s infancy.
So many times our kids are the last person we turn to for help, information, or support. For instance, a friend of mine called me last year from Detroit for some advice. At her son’s high school there had been some fights between white and Africa-American students, creating some fairly intense racial tension. This friend wanted some help in creating a retreat for the teens that would bring both sides together to do some conflict resolution and community building. My first question to her was, "How have you involved the teens in creating this retreat?" There was a pause from the other end, then a guilt-ridden "we haven’t at all, yet." Well, after our conversation, she created a team comprised mostly of students to organize and brainstorm this retreat, which turned out to be incredibly successful. But just think of the opportunity for growth for the students that would have been so carelessly missed for the simple reason that we don’t value our children’s input and contributions. And, therefore, from a child’s perspective, we don’t value them.
Several years ago a 13 year old baby-sitter, Melody, who was an only child living with older parents used to hang around our house a lot. One day my wife, Anne, asked her if she could help balance our checkbook. Well, you would have thought she had been given a million dollars. Anne showed her how and for the next year Melody would come up to our house once a month and tackle the Jordan’s checkbook. And the look on her face when she left our house was worth a thousand words. Happy, proud, valuable, responsible. Something as simple as balancing a checkbook can bring a tremendous sense of satisfaction and a sense of "I’m contributing something worthwhile" to a child.
So become aware of all the endless ways that kids could be valuable to us and their community. Volunteering at a preschool; serving meals at a homeless shelter; picking up litter in your neighborhood; saving up money together as a family for some philanthropic purpose; doing some yard work for grandma and grandpa; asking their ideas or opinion about a problem you are working on. There are large and small opportunities everyday to give kids a chance to be valuable, contributing members of society. And not only does the family and community benefit, but the kids benefit tenfold as well. There is no better way to support kids in feeling good about themselves than to help them be of service to others. Someone once said that you reap what you sow. If kids are getting out of themselves and sowing love and service, then they will reap feelings of love and peace and fullness. In this day and age of so many questions about teen anger, teen violence, teen pregnancies, and teen suicides, perhaps the best answers lie with the kids and teens themselves. Let’s give kids a chance!
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Proud Mama To
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