Each day I walk into a middle school where I am a social worker and counselor. I barely get my purse off my arm before chaos hits and I begin meeting with students. They come to see me for all kinds of reasons: conflicts with friends, grades, challenges with teachers, bullying, club sign-ups, problems at home, plans for the future, thoughts of suicide, fears of high school, relationship issues, worries about school violence, excitement about upcoming events. The range of topics is as numerous and varied as the students in the school. It is an exciting, rewarding and very challenging place to work. And I have learned a few things in my work with youths that will help these kids become the kind and responsible adults we need them to be.
Children will become what they believe. When they spend more than half of their waking hours in an environment that is fraught with challenge and negativity, they begin to believe poorly of themselves. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah youths ages 11-17, with a rate that has tripled since 2007. Our kids are struggling.
Our children are often lost and confused. They live in a world where value is determined by the number of likes and followers one can collect in digital space. They face challenges of finding their identity while simultaneously hiding in the shadows of anonymity. Their moral compass is attached to a network that is constantly reinventing itself, which makes it impossible to define their values.
Our children need someone who will guide and direct them. They want someone to give them advice. Ignore the eye rolls and sighs … those are just for dramatic flair. They are waiting for someone to notice them and listen while they work out the scrambled thoughts in their minds.
Our children need parents who take their responsibility seriously and are engaged in raising them. It doesn’t matter if these parents are together or not. The fact that two people have children in common means that they must place their differences to the side and raise the children in unity.
Our children need extended family, friends and neighbors who will teach them to be respectful young men and women. They do not want entitlement. Most are looking for opportunities to do their part. They want to make us proud.
Our children need a culture that teaches them that success does not come at the expense of others, but rather success comes from helping ourselves and others to be our best selves.
Our children need adults in their lives that truly believe in them — people who believe in their awesomeness and in all they will accomplish. They need adults who will set the bar high and help them to rise to meet it.
We must do a better job of being engaged in our children’s lives. We must create a culture that no longer encourages entitlement, but rather celebrates responsibility and kindness for others. We must live by the motto that we do unto others what we would want someone to do for us. It takes a village to make this culture change. Will you be part of the village?