Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. The 13-year old boy stared through the window into the woods. No one could see him there, sitting behind the couch in the window seat. He was hidden by the curtains. Not that anyone would see him. As usual, there was no one home anyway. He was angry. Family issues, trouble at school. He was different and everyone knew it. Tall and painfully thin – his grandfather said he was growing faster than a weed. “Perfect. Weeds. Something no one wants.” He said to himself. His thoughts turned to school that day. “Your such an *** hole,” said the kid in his gym class. “No one likes you, why don’t you just go die in a hole?” After class, he was surrounded by a bunch of boys and thrown up against his gym locker. “You suck.” He heard them all say, it was the final insult for the day. Not unlike any other day. “I hate that Sidney.” he thought to himself about the bully in his 8th grade class. “I hate them all.” Dark feelings, even darker thoughts….ruled him. “I can’t talk to Dad,” not that he ever would. He was never home and when he was, his father was there only long enough to shower and leave or fight with his mother. The boy felt trapped. With no one to talk to, he just learned to hold it in. Keep it to himself. “Boys don’t cry…everyone knows that.” So he didn’t. The only time he had any relief was when he was high.
Though the story above may be fiction, it is grounded in fact. Every day across this world the incidence of bullying is increasing at frightening proportions. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics note, “For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year.”
According to the CDC, there are many reasons for this epidemic rise, ranging from bullying (physically, mentally, cyber bullying etc); depression, alcohol or drug abuse, easy access to lethal methods, exposure to suicidal behavior in others and incarceration. What is going on here?
What part of this is inflicted by society and what part is intrinsic in mental issues? Within the mental issues, is there a cause and effect ratio? Let’s face it, we as a society need to move beyond the attitude that bullying is just part of growing up. I can say that yes, I was bullied. I bet all of us dealt with it in one way or the other. BUT, at least I had a safe place to run – I could bring it to my parents or my brother or even maybe, a close friend. I had an outlet.
With the email, texting, skype, facebook, vine, instagram, twitter and even websites dedicated to allow others to post a review of someone and trash them (Unvarnished), this tech-savvy generation experience 24-7 info…and which has the potential for round-the-clock abuse. To where can they escape? There is so much peer pressure to feature their comings and goings every day – every hour – that we are raising generations of narcissists. When all one does is focus on themselves it raises the level of importance in our own minds…as well as empowers the poison that lives in the heart of every human to surface.
A few weeks ago I read a story about two 17-year old high school students who clearly became overwhelmed with their lives….and chose to end them. On the surface, these young men had everything you would imagine. They went to school in one of the best school districts in the country, their families were well- to-do, they were athletes and supposedly well liked. But here it is. In multiple newspaper articles since their deaths, the real story is coming to light. The environment in their school was toxic. The kids there and as many teachers and parents measure “success” in relation to the temporary things in life…
What do you drive? What kind of house do you live in? What are you wearing? What are your grades, your sports abilities…..etc. etc. Couple that pressure with 24-7 access to personal space, a grinding drive to compete, and an underlying push and pressure to always perform and you have a soup of despair. Is there any surprise that we are seeing an increase of alcohol and drug use and a decrease of personal responsibility in our youth?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying there is anything wrong with trying to do your best. It is when we as humans make success in the eyes and measurement of others as the cornerstone of our existence, that we can end up very sad and very sick. It is the not what have you done for me today, but what will you do for me tomorrow syndrome. These boys, like many others, felt that they had no one to talk to. No I am not making a judgement here regarding their own parents. It is just for one reason or another they thought they were grown-up enough to handle the stresses of their young lives on their own. They didn’t have the wisdom, the perspective and the experience to search out help to address their fragile feelings.
I have seen this first hand…literally in my own back yard. Ten years ago this month, a young man took his own life (and those of his family) in my neighbourhood. His note left behind said that he could not measure up to his parent’s expectations. His biggest fault? He did not get accepted into the prestigious college his parents wanted him to attend. He could not face their disappointment. So he didn’t.
Now this is extreme behavior, of course. But unfortunately, these occurrences are becoming more and more common.
A friend of mine, who that story above was modeled after, told me once that now that he is an adult, he wishes he could go back to himself as a young man and tell him, “It is going to be okay.”
We must teach our children to love themselves, not things, love who they are in mind and heart, not who others SAY that they are. They need to be taught, and have it modeled to them, that they are more than the measure of what money and power can buy. They are God’s idea and no one else’s. And in regard to the 24-7 media access, I ask this question.
Your home is where you keep all your valuables, the things that are special to you and where you find, hopefully, a measure of safety from the outside world. Now – would you leave the doors to your house unlocked and unattended? When we are allowing our children – or even – ourselves, to be sucked into this hourly internet based information frenzy – we are doing just that – virtually anyone has access to what should be most precious to us – OUR CHILDREN.
None of this is a surprise to God. He told us this would happen. We as a society have become so consumed with ourselves, (2 Timothy 3:2-4) we are modeling and teaching our children the same.
What can we do? Though not exhaustive, below are a couple of thoughts.
Walk The Walk:
Obviously, as people of faith – we need to shepherd our children’s hearts to full knowledge and acceptance of Jesus. But we need to MODEL it to them. If our children cannot see Christ in us daily, how will they know who He is and that He is real? The testimony of our daily lives WILL make a difference in them. Teach them who they are in God’s eyes, plans and purpose. The world is fleeting, but God’s Kingdom is forever. Gird them with the knowledge and power that they are something special and that they are loved.
Can You Hear Me Now?:
Young people especially need access to adults who are quick to listen, slow to speak and even slower to get angry. Mentoring our own children and even, being there for others who do not have a positive adult influence in their lives is paramount. Kids don’t have the answers – not that adults always do either. However, as one parent wrote in a newspaper article following the deaths of the two 17-year olds, we need be cognizant of the exhaustion of these young people of “struggling in private,[coupled with] a string of very bad days, a loss of perspective and hope, all combined with a sudden impulse and access to something deadly.” It is all too common for young to suffer from depression. We need to give them access to medical help as necessary; and access to trusted adults. We need to teach them coping skills, hold abusers/bullies accountable and if necessary remove them from the situation.
Talk The Talk:
Perspective is everything. We know that. For example, when I am really angry or upset – enough to take poison pen in hand or pick up the phone, I have learned to write it down and park it. Revisit the issue 24- hours later. It has saved me from making some horrendous mistakes. Teenagers and young adults are all “in the moment.” Fueled by hormones and drama, their passion runs high. Access to talk to a safe, even-tempered and mature adult can help them to diminish the issues and put them into proper perspective. Make a date with your teenagers – weekly at a minimum – and keep your date. Invariably, we cannot tell our kids what to do at some point of their lives, but we can counsel them into making wiser decisions.
Out with the Bad and In with the Good:
I cannot say this enough. As in the example above, lock your doors and limit exposure to 24-7 access of your children. Set limits. Monitor with who and what they are doing and resist the temptation to give in, because you are tired. You may be the “meanest” mom and/or dad in the world, but in the long run, you will be glad you were. That is not to say total restriction either. It is to say – balance is the key.
Read the Signs: As in the fictional story above – it was obvious what was happening to that kid. Yet there was so much strife IN the house, no one could have known what was happening IN his life. We must take stock of our own lives. We have only a small window of time to raise children into being who God intends them to be. Children are worth twice the adult. What we do as adults DOES affect them and by our own negative behaviours we can turn them into broken vessels.
Do your Knee-Mail:
As parents and followers of Christ – we are God’s ambassadors. We are all put on this earth for “such a time as this.” If we are not praying a spiritual hedge around our children – daily – even hourly, who is going to do it? Additionally, we must to step into the gap and pray for this world and pray against the work of the evil and apostasy that is consuming it.
Finally, get plenty of rest. Raising children in the 21st century is not for the feeble-hearted. A clear head and a heart focused on the will of God for your children will be the best tools you will ever have. 😉