My 10 year old daughter came home last week to tell me about an incident that happened on the playground at school during recess. Turns out some that some of her classmates were picking on a little girl and to make a long story short, she and another girl told the adult in charge. My daughter and her classmate were escorted into the principal’s office to write in their own hand what they had seen and heard. My daughter said that she had to sign her name to it and for her this was a big deal. The kids that were doing the bullying were called into the principal’s office and the little girl was called in also. When the little girl came back to class she was crying. When they had occasion to chat again later in the day, my daughter said she told the little girl that she would play with her if no one else would and she said the little girl smiled. I gave my daughter a hug, told her I was proud of her and expressed my gratitude for her ability to stand up and do the right thing. I asked her how she knew and she just said I don’t know, I just did.
As a mom and writer, I tell this story to indicate that children have the ability to self report if we give them the inner skills to just know. Teaching our children to follow their gut is paramount in enabling them to recognize that still small voice inside of them that tells them that there is something wrong with this picture. This teaching begins at the moment that they take their first breath. They have to be able to express what is going on inside of them to an adult that is listening and to one that is receptive to what they have to say and what they have to feel. When we take our children to the beach and they build that first sandcastle we openly express our excitement, we ooh and we ahh, we tell them what a big boy or girl they are and we let them know that their creative ability expressed in sand is to be marveled and celebrated.
Penn State is a microcosm of how far we have come as a society in dismissing not only our children but the truth. When the truth rears its ugly head and when what is done in the dark comes out in the light; our society has figured out a way to gloss over it and make it alright. Again, we are witness to the fact that money talks and morality walks. The outrage should be collective to protect our children, it is not. Instead of raising children into young adults we have raised young adults into children and older adults into babies. The students at Penn State, all I imagine having had the benefit of a good upbringing, still collectively lacked the “knowing” to understand and empathize for the child in pain. The adults at Penn State having had the benefit of age lacked their own moral center to do the right thing because it is the right thing. All of us are in some way fragmented. We did not all get the best in life and many of us have had to eat a lot of lemons before we understood that we could still make lemonade out of what we squeezed. I get that. However, we must and I emphasize, WE MUST STOP AND GROW UP and realize that if we as a society do not get our act together and begin to protect our children at all costs - our children will not protect us.
The question of how to tell our children about what is going on is in many respects moot. Our children know more than they should and left to their own devices they make up the rest. A teachable moment is right where you are.
1. Spend time with your children in a comfortable atmosphere – dinner table, bowling alley, over a good card game, playing a sport, talking on the phone;
2. Let the children talk to you about whatever;
3. Do not express shock when the children begin to tell you their truth;
4. Listen and listen some more;
5. Listen more;
6. If their story needs follow up do so in a loving manner – hold hands, rub their back, give them high fives, smile, laugh, nod your head – however your child receives love give it to them;
7. Acknowledge how grateful and proud you are that your child was able to talk to you and tell them so;
8. Give your opinion if needed;
9. Answer questions if asked;
10. Continue the comfortable atmosphere;
11. Finish in love.
Teachable moments are daily and often. If children are given the permission to be expressive in a comfortable atmosphere, they will tell you things about their day when they are young. As they grow up and become teenagers there will be mystery and as a parent you will have to dig a little deeper; however the truth will come out if you listen. As mothers, our intuition speaks before our mouth moves.
Penn State shines a light on the fact that as adults we have fallen way short of the mark. As a society we have to examine and re-discover our moral center before it is too late.
(this piece originally posted to examiner.com on 11/16/11 http://www.examiner.com/motherhood-in-stockton/penn-state-a-commentary-from-just-a-mom)