Children At Risk

Over the past several weeks, we have heard far too much about our children ending their lives because of relentless bullying and harassment that has left them vulnerable and, they believed, without choices.  And just when it appeared as though adults were starting to “get with the program”, recognizing that they need to make the message of tolerance and acceptance part of the everyday method of operation — including President Obama’s message that bullying is *not* just part of the teenage scene — in walks Clint McCance.

In case you were not aware, McCance is a school board member at the Midland School District in Arkansas who, on his Facebook page, made his feelings clear about gays and suicide — he approves and, in fact, he stated that the day he will wear purple is the day that all gays follow suit.  He also stated that he would disown his children if they were gay.  Need I say more?

Actually, I do need to say more.  When we typically think of children at risk, we think of children from underprivileged households or those with learning disabilities.  Rarely did our thoughts go to the adults charged with keeping our children safe as putting our children at risk.

Despite a public apology (using that term loosely) and an announcement of his resignation on CNN (Anderson Cooper), there is absolutely nothing that shows me that this individual has any intention of changing his feelings or perspectives nor has any plan to educate himself and/or engage with the gay community to begin to integrate understanding, acceptance, and tolerance into his repertoire.

The message cannot be stated powerfully enough…the safety of our children is paramount.  They must be safe to be who they are regardless of their sexual identity, religious beliefs, or political views.  They must know that there are people around them who are “on their side” and are supporting them as they spread their wings from childhood into adulthood, allowing them to develop their path freely and without fear.

The dialogue is starting — a first step.  Yet it is not enough.  Until parents and adults step-back and consider their role in creating an environment — whether at home, school, or the community — whereby *all* children can be safe, we all remain responsible for putting our children at risk.

Bullying and Tragedy

I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the recent suicide of a bright, talented young man from Rutger’s whose world was destroyed by two classmates out for a laugh.  To say that I am equally angered and heartbroken would be an understatement.

Over the past decade, I have worked with hundreds upon hundreds of parents whose children have suffered bullying, harassment, and worse at the hands of peers.  Doesn’t matter the grade — 1st Grade, 5th Grade, 10th Grade, college.  And while attention to these issues has increased, so too has the number of young people who feel frightened, overwhelmed, without support, and as though whatever they are facing can not be handled any longer.

We have instituted “anti-bullying” programs in schools, churches, and synagogues … started groups to address self-esteem issues for teens and special education issues in classrooms … provided platforms for college students to stand-up and speak about the issues most important to them.  Yet this week, several children have ended their lives because clearly, things are not working.

We are losing our children.  Bright, talented, sensitive, aware children.   Children who were on the path to adulthood and who may have made contributions to our world that could have changed it for the better.  We can shake our heads and collectively mourn or can say “enough” and start to do something about it.

Are we raising our children to respect themselves and others, to value differences, and to embrace all perspectives and experiences?  Are we demonstrating a clear intolerance for anyone or anything different from ourselves?  What messages are we giving, both verbally and by our actions?  And what could be the consequences?

We are at a crossroads and we can either continue along the path we’ve been walking or can make a decision to change.  I cannot imagine the grief that this student’s parents, family, and friends are experiencing.  What I can imagine is that this young man deserved the respect that we all desire.   And a precious life has been lost.

Parents — Your Time Is Now

I’ve been closely following all the media attention over the past week regarding education.  Finally, our national attention has turned in this direction and policy makers, business leaders, and educators have had their “smack on the side of the head” moment recognizing the direct correlation between the education of our children and our future in virtually every area of life.

On a recent Philadelphia newscast following the opening night of “Waiting for Superman,” a board member from a fairly large school district in the Philadelphia suburbs spoke the words that I’ve been speaking for years…parents need to learn to navigate the system.  Finally…someone on the “other side” of the table has said it.  Parents are an integral part of this process and have been excluded from the discussion for too long in part because they lack the knowledge of the system on a micro level — their school district, their school, their child’s class, and their child.

Are there pockets of parents — and individual parents — who have been and continue to be outspoken advocates for education?  You bet.  Yet the reality is that there are millions of children struggling in school and while the statistics paint a picture that no adult should want to see, the problem remains the disconnect between the national stats and the individual child.  Making the messages resonate so that parents finally understand that the issues are really talking about one child — theirs — and that their role in partnering with their child along the education journey  is the only way to change the status quo.

Whether your child is in 4th Grade, 10th Grade, or college … whether your child is reading below grade level or has been diagnosed with a learning difference … whether your child is attending a charter school or a private school …  your involvement is a critical part of ensuring that your child is making measurable progress toward clearly established goals.   We can speak about policy change, reform, teacher accountability, math and reading levels, competitive nations, and a host of other key issues, each of which are part of the mosaic of education.  Yet without the active involvement of parents at every level of the discussion from the kitchen table overseeing math homework to active participation on school boards, real change will be a “stop and start” proposition.

It’s October…early in the school year.  Commit to getting off the sidelines and into the game.  Volunteer one hour per week at school.  Attend school board meetings.  Start truly measuring your child’s progress on a weekly basis.  Use data to track where you child is today and where he/she may be in two weeks.  Stop sitting on the sofa watching the media messages and stand up and do something.

Your child’s future is depending upon your involvement.  The time is now.