I am no stranger to recent grief. My mother passed away last January. She was one of my circle whom I call my sounding board. She was always ready to lend an ear and enter into lively discussion about the events of the day. After her death, I found my voice was largely silent; hushed in the alcoves of grief which filled my heart. Even now, I find it difficult to bring forth the expressions of opinion, knowing she is not here to share them with.
She was a native of and lived in Colorado. Last Spring, my siblings and I found ourselves grateful she was not a witness to the tragedy of children killing children and their teacher in Littleton, Colorado. A place just a few miles from where her grandparents homesteaded.
In this time of my own personal mourning, I have discovered an extraordinary cyber-community called the Mudcat Cafe (www.mudcat.org). It is filled with people who have a common link in their love and performance of folk music. At the time of Littleton massacre, the discussion forum was filled with hundreds of passionate and thoughtful opinions, suggestions, and lamentations over the plight of the world's children, especially here in America. Many reasons were cited in an attempt to explain the motivation for such hatred and senseless destruction. At the same time there were debates on censorship and the role music, the media, and entertainment industries play in the weave of society's fabric.
One of the important points many of us agreed upon was the need to allow children to be children. Think about what a person in their 30's, 40's, or 50's might have known of the entire world, at five years old. Most of us knew there were starving children somewhere thus we should eat all of our dinner. Today's children, as one fellow Mudcatter pointed out, are global citizens from birth. With the blessings of the Internet, television, and telecommunications, the world is literally available at our fingertips. Therefore children are inundated and much more aware of all the good and bad in the world. They see the reality of the cruel world of wars, racial hatred, and despair; a reality I believe their tender souls and hearts were never meant to experience in such volumes, at such young ages.
Through all the pundits and finger pointing, many of us at the Mudcat concluded we are all of us guilty. Parents, teachers, school administrators, clergy, friends, everyone has failed in making a concerted effort to treat children with a protective tenderness born of compassion and an understanding of the limits of their "need to know". Children do not need to know the details of every tragedy; they do not need the visual images of strife and war of any kind.
One of my Mudcat friends reminded me of a phrase she'd read in Mothering Magazine about ten years ago. This term, benign neglect, describes the belief that children need time to be let alone; to sit under a tree and daydream; learn to know themselves in the solitude of imaginary play amongst the backdrop of nature or a quiet spot in the home. I think it is also an apt description of the need for children to experience boredom; a boredom they can alleviate through creative and positive means, guided by a parent or other responsible adult.
Today's children need DayTimers just to keep track of all of their activities, from grade school on. Sports and other activities are good and parents have good reason in believing all these things are necessary for their children's success in life. However, without moderation, I believe it creates an unnecessary and detrimental chaos in their hearts and minds, because, again, they were not meant to function at such levels. It's almost as though our society of hyper-consumerism expects the planted seed that is a child, to grow instantly into a strong and sturdy plant, able to bear mature fruit of a nature beneficial to all.
I do not know if any of these things were factors in the Colorado massacre. I only know that children need permission to just be children; allowed to run and play hard, sleep deeply, eat healthily, share their fears and joys willingly in a loving and nurturing environment.
Parents should be the first line of defence that ensures children this climate of healthy growth. Parents must, from the day of their child's birth, slow the pace of life down, even though it goes against society's dictates. They must take time for reading a book, singing a lullaby, holding a child near in comfort, listening to the silence. Without time to hear themselves and their own thoughts, understanding who they are becoming, how can we hope for children with well-developed critical thinking skills; skills so necessary in this fast-paced world? Even adults seem afraid of confronting themselves as they frantically fill all the hours of each day with work and other activities, trying to live up to a consumer culture which believes more of everything is better. Consequently, adults manifest the unbearable stress through heart disease, ulcers, and other ailments. How much damage might that same stress cause to the ever-changing bodies, minds and souls of children?
Home strife can cause children to act out in destructive ways. Our imperfect system allows many children to fall through the cracks; children who need intervention and advocacy in the very early years of their lives. Many times, teachers tell me of a student whose home life is an absolute hell of abusive parents, drug addiction, or even the harmful neglect of materialism. Each time, a teacher has worked the system; striving to obtain services which could turn that child's life around in a positive way. Too many times, the system failed to follow through, the children passed on to the next grade, their behaviour and learning skills deteriorated and they became the next potential youthful killers.
There has been much debate about the abuse or harassment such children suffer at the hands of their peers; a belief that it feeds the fear, embarrassment and anger until a boiling point of blinding rage and retribution sets them on a path of destruction.
It is true that humans are pack-oriented; anyone different will be picked at and ostracised. While this should have no part in our society and especially should not be tolerated in our schools, how victims react to this abuse can vary greatly. One student may have the determination and skills to rise above it; using it as a motivating factor for success despite the setbacks of loneliness. Another may seethe in rage, withdraw, and seek refuge in spurious activities, embracing the negativity of all aspects of society.
How they react is in direct relation to how they've been raised; how they relate to the world. If their parents are involved in their lives, demonstrating positive skills of coping, learning, and living, they may choose the "beat of a different drummer" deliberately and proudly standing out and away from the crowd. Children who experience a multitude of negativity in their early years, who are passively entertained through the media or constantly kept busy, may lack the skills necessary to cope in a positive way.
If nothing else comes out of the Littleton tragedy, we must all of us, join in making a difference, one child at a time. Major changes in society must begin with baby steps, one-on-one interaction. I hope the adults of our world can find the strength to practise good judgement, to indulge in moderation in all our world has to offer, thus offering each child the same opportunity for self-discovery.
My mother understood this. I cannot count the hours I was left to wander through the imaginary world my mind created. It was filled with the wonders of the stories and poems she read to me; of the songs she sang to me. May it be so for today's children; in this way may we heal the hideous disease which fostered such destruction in Littleton.
© original April 28, 1999 OoBraughLoo Press
© revised October 20, 1999 OoBraughLoo Press
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