Dear God, Give Me the Strength to Make a Difference

Dear God

During my senior year in high school I had already filled all the credits required to graduate, but my school didn’t allow for early dismissal.  So I spent forty-five minutes a day helping out in the kindergarten and first grade classrooms.  Until that time I had thought I would go to college to be a lawyer because I am very good at debate and making a persuasive argument, especially when I am passionate about the subject.

However, working with those adorable five and six year olds was just too much fun, and by graduation I made up my mind to be a teacher.  While still a freshman in college I became a teacher’s aid working in an elementary school five days a week.  I maintained that job all through college.  Then I subbed for a year before I finally was hired.  If you add all my years together I have been working with children of assorted ages for over two decades.  Add to that mix my own two boys and I think it is safe to say that I know a thing or two about kids.

Lately what I seem to know I find more than a little alarming.  I work in an inner city school system and children are growing up way too fast, know things they shouldn’t know way too soon, and are failing to truly take to heart empathy and kindness for others.  But it isn’t just a city problem.  Just watch the news and you will know that.

My children are not perfect, but I am proud of the fact that my kids still act like the kids that they are.  It is something I worked hard at.  They play with a wide range of toys, run through sprinklers, build snowmen, and love bedtime stories.  On family movie night we watch The Sand Lot, Matilda, Peter Pan, and movies that are designed to inspire and amuse.  Sure, we watch The Avengers, Spiderman (the one with Tobey McGuire) and some PG action movies too, after all they are boys.  But my children have never seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Dark Knight, Jason vs. Freddie, and the like, not even my twelve year old.  Yet most of the first graders in my classroom have seen all of the scary movies I just mentioned and even some I had never even heard of until they told me about them.

After dinner and on weekends my kids are told to go outside.  They ride bikes, climb trees, and play with other kids in our sub.  Where I teach there is supposedly thousands of children living in roughly a two mile area, yet if you go up and down the streets you see almost none of them outside.  They are all inside playing video games, day after day, week after week, and yes, year after year, even in the summer time.

I see firsthand how children are becoming “desensitized” to the world around them.  Early in my career working with children it was normal to have two, maybe three kids in a room who were quick to shove, punch, and basically resort to physical aggression as their way of dealing with frustration.  Today, I look around at class after class and I see ten or more kids in a room who resort to that type of aggression.  Plus, the fuse to trigger those angry outbursts is shorter than ever.

I also find shocking the amount of sexual knowledge early elementary kids have.  I am talking about first and second graders knowing about a whole lot more than just kissing.  They think it is “nasty” when they talk about it but I am shocked none the less when a six year old raises their hand and starts talking out of the blue about topics that literally make me blush.  Equally shocking is how fast children are developing these days.  When I was young most of my friends and I started “that time of the month” when we were in middle school.  Girls didn’t develop womanly
curves until seventh grade or later. Today I could literally show you second graders sporting a B cup.  Don’t tell me all those growth hormones being given to dairy cows and other animals aren’t having an affect on our kids.  Girls in the third grade should not need maxi pads.

But the most alarming thing I see in children today is their lack of sympathy or caring.  If you talk to them you quickly learn that they know all the right buzz words and phrases:

“We keep our hands and feet to ourselves.

We should never bully another kid.

We feel better when we fill someone else’s bucket.

The easiest way to fill someone’s bucket is to be nice.

Calling names makes other people feel bad…”

Just because they know these words and phrases doesn’t mean that the meaning of the words have traveled farther than their brain and into their belief system, however.  Otherwise, how could a 16 year old girl in Ohio be raped by not just one but two different boys, with an audience of 60 other teenagers?  How do we reach a point where out of sixty other kids, all with smart phones, not one of them thought to use that phone to discreetly call for help?  Not one?!  Instead they all took out those smart phones and snapped pictures and created video recordings to later humiliate the girl.  Those phones were used to upload to Facebook and Twitter a criminal act that apparently didn’t seem wrong at all to all these teens.

Even the other girls at the party did nothing to help.  Remember when girls were sugar and spice and everything nice?  Don’t let the pigtails and Mary Janes fool you.  Girls today have become mean.  Think of the movie Mean Girls but only much, much worse.  Go to YouTube and search “girls fighting”.  You will get 828,000 matches for your search.  Sugar and spice?  These days it is more like vinegar and crushed red pepper.

So what do we do?  How do we make a difference?  As a parent and a teacher I can say that it starts at home.  I know you have heard it before but it is the truth.  I see my students about 30 hours a week for about 9 months and then they are gone.  In that time I work hard to teach them not just reading and math but good behavior and to do the right thing, but I can NOT change a negative attitude that has been developing for years.  I may be able to reach some of them but I will never successfully reach all 29.

Make sure you know what your kids are watching and that it is appropriate.  Limit video games to a few hours a week or use it as a reward to get chores and homework done and don’t purchase the games that are nothing but violence and swearing.  Don’t dress your little girl like a hoochie mama even if it is the fashion.  Pants with the word DIVA written across the rear end need to be left in the store.   Even if you don’t buy into a religion you can still teach your children about morals and ethics.  There are many fabulous children’s books to check out of the library to read at bedtime and talk about once the day is winding down.  Encourage your kids to be kids for as long as you can and maybe girls will be made of sugar and spice and everything nice and boys from snails, whales and puppy dog tails once more.

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