Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting Involved -- It Takes A Village

When I was in my senior year of high school, there was a school shooting in a town about 45 minutes away from where I lived. At the time, one of my friends attended that school and was approximately ten feet away from the gunman. Luckily, the gunman was subdued quickly by some brave students, but only after injuring and killing a few others. Today another school shooting took place about an hour away from where I live. Unfortunately one student was killed and the shooter died as well. My initial desire was to go grab my child out of school and tell her summer starts early. Though we live in what is considered to be a safe community with lots of parental involvement, it doesn't mean that we are immune to this type of awful event. We aren't guaranteed that something like this can't happen here. Sad, but true.

It disturbs me that I'm now having conversations with my thirteen year-old and telling her to be careful who she interacts with. I don't want her to unwittingly upset an unbalanced peer who may later decide to have a vendetta against her. Isn't that awful? Doesn't that seem entirely unnatural and dark? It does to me, but unfortunately it's a sign of the times we live in now. When I was a kid, we were warned not to talk to strangers, and were wary of every van that drove slowly down the street. Never did I think my children would have to be afraid of a troubled kid carrying a backpack. Then I wonder, if it's this bad now, how will it be in ten more years when my youngest is in middle school?

Even after the incident happened when I was in high school, I didn't fear going to school, the mall, the theater or the post office. We didn't have security guards, metal detectors or awareness programs at our school. These occurrences were still few and far between, not like today, where it seems like it’s happening almost weekly. We also didn't have something else that I think too many kids have these days -- access. And I don’t mean just to weapons.

When I was growing up, we didn't have a plethora of online videos, chat rooms, interactive gaming, instant communication with possible strangers or much of what my children now have at their fingertips. Though I often tout these wonderful electronic creations for allowing me to speak with my family in other countries, or friends who I rarely see, I also find they have managed to overly-occupy and isolate a lot of us. Even more so, the generation that is preparing to take our place. At some point in their time, every generation will look at the generation following theirs and think, "What's happened to kid's these days? When I was that age....," all while shaking their heads. The future generation will just look ahead and scoff at the previous one for being "outdated."

But what we might fail to acknowledge or assume is accountability. We can point fingers, blame and shake our heads until the sun comes up, but it won't change anything. The most it will do is create more strife, further widening the gap between us and them. It's time for a change. We ALL have to do something.

I don't like living in fear. In fact, I've always been somewhat of a worry-wart. When I was young, this trait often prevented me from doing something adventurous in fear that I'd get hurt or in trouble. As I've gotten older, I have let some of that go and tried not to instill that in my children, though I admit it's unavoidable at times. Especially on days like today. Now here I am today, again perplexed over what to do as a parent and a member of society. Do I home school my kids? Do I quit my job, shelter them and potentially take away wonderful memories with their friends, sports and other activities to possibly prevent something that is most likely out of my control? Or do I pray for the best and hope my children and their classmates are forever spared such traumatic events?

After tossing around these thoughts and emotions for a while, I've come to one conclusion. I need to be aware. WE need to be aware. I need to pay close attention to my children and their friends. Not because I'm afraid they are going to do something to harm someone else, but because I need to be a form of comfort, guidance and support. Life is MUCH more complicated for these kids in some facets, and easier in others. There is so much “out to get them,” yet they have everything available to them. It's sort of a vicious cycle. They have the ability to talk with their friends on video chat, yet any little embarrassing thing they do could be made public with a touch of a button, forever haunting them.

This is where we as parents, adults and society need to step in and take a more proactive approach. Remember the days where you knew your neighbors? I do. Remember when you knew your friends’ parents and they knew you? I do! Remember how most households seemed to operate the same way? Yes, the good old days. We've had many versions of them depending on when you grew up. But we have to stop living in the past. We have to realize that there are scary things going on in our children’s lives that they do not understand and cannot fully comprehend, right now. There's too much access to possibly harmful things and not enough access to mental help, support and safe places to go.

Most parents work full-time (like me and my husband), many children have split homes (mine included) and life can be hard to keep up with. It's an added pressure and we often find ourselves being crushed under the weight of those obligations while trying to be a good parent, spouse, friend, employee, etc. It's hard, believe me I know....it is so hard! But folks, if we don't take some accountability and start to change, we will fail our children and the generations to follow. There is a reason for the saying, "It takes a village," because it does. We need to be more involved with not just our children, but also their peers.

We need to stop worrying so much about crossing the line in other people's lives, because that one small act of asking someone if they need help, or pitching in, could make a big impact. You see that kid that goes home every day by himself and waits for his parents to get home? Is he lonely? Does he just sit on his computer all afternoon? Maybe you could offer him money to mow your lawn, start a conversation, let him know he's not alone. I remember knowing lots of parents who I liked. I always felt like there was someone else I could go to if I couldn't go to my parents. I need to do the same. We ALL need to do the same.

We need to stop blaming one source or the other: lifestyle, guns, technology, mental health. It's ALL connected. It ALL needs to be addressed. And each of us need to start doing a little to make a big change. We are getting complacent when it comes to the important parts of life and the things that really matter. We are so worried about being polite and stepping on each other’s toes that we don't speak up or act. We are isolating ourselves and in turn our children. And I am just as guilty of it.

It's hard to make a change. It's hard to break out of a pattern, but sooner or later we will have to do it in order to turn around the societal bad habits that are quickly forming. Fear of impoliteness, not being liked, or being too strict need to be tossed aside. We're the adults here, we are currently the ones in charge and we need to stop blaming each other and start helping one another. Not one parent wants to ever admit that they are doing something wrong in regards to raising their child. No parent ever wants to truly acknowledge that there might be something wrong with their kid mentally or emotionally. But some of us might have to. And we need to support those parents dealing with a troubled child rather than blame them.

It's a sad day here in Oregon. There have been a lot of sad days for many families who have fallen victim to someone who had a mental illness and access to a weapon that hurt others. Nobody wins in this situation, even if that person dies – thereby removing the immediate threat. What took place today was a scary and traumatic event for young students that still aren't old enough to know how to drive, pay bills, or vote. Therefore, it is still our responsibility to protect them from themselves.

I ask that parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, teachers, neighbors and family friends open your eyes. Look around you. Rather than be discouraged by the ways that society is failing, find your place in making it better.

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