|Without Hope, How do They Have Courage?
Gun shootings happen with such frequency in our schools, malls, and neighborhoods that we risk becoming numb to the horror. With such pervasive violence in our culture, how do we give our children hope and the tools to be resilient – even courageous – in the face of adversity?
It’s no surprise that our kids’ mental health is frazzled these days because of the triple threat that is COVID, violence, and racism. Nationally, mental health related emergency department visits spiked 31% for kids ages 12 to 17 during the height of the pandemic; calls from Philadelphia youth to the statewide suicide hotline jumped by an alarming 257%, 14 times higher than the state average. Our children cannot heal if they do not feel safe.
A recent poll of American attitudes find that half of Americans believe our country is headed toward civil war; nearly 19% agreed strongly or very strongly that violence or force is needed to “protect American democracy” when “elected leaders will not;” and 4% thought it at least somewhat likely that they would shoot someone with a gun in their lifetime.
How do we instill courage and hope in our children in the face of so much destruction and divisiveness?
One option is to encourage pre-teens and teenagers to watch the brave testimony of people willing to speak the truth about January 6th at the risk of their careers or personal safety. Show them that this is what it looks like to do the right thing, even if it’s scary.
The other avenue is to fight the censorship in our schools. Our children from a young age deserve to learn about people who fought against hardship and injustice, people who challenged hatred and blazed a new trail. When we erase our country’s hard history, we disrespect the people who changed it and rob our children of examples of courage.
When school opens up in September, do the work – go to your school board meetings, find out if teachers and librarians are forbidden to teach America’s whole truth, and fight for change. Show your children how to create safe spaces for people to learn how to respect each other’s differences.
Support and use violence prevention programs. In Philadelphia, there are a variety of violence prevention programs to make neighborhoods safer. Delaware County recently received $2 million for violence reduction, and Montgomery County gets federal dollars for the STOP School Violence Program.
And finally, teach children kindness. It sounds incredibly trite but remember that children are watching you deal with conflict all the time. When you cuss out the driver who just cut you off on the highway, when you lose your patience at the grocery store, when you harshly criticize your child’s teacher or coach, you’re teaching aggression, not understanding.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brené Brown