Kids are listening!
It seems like such an obvious statement. Of course they are! Kids are listening to our conversations, they listen to their teachers, but they also hear the news that we are listening to, the programs we are are listening to, the conversations we are having, they read the comments we are making.
And with the intensity of political discussion in these past months and the appearance of a normalized civil discourse that is disrespectful and at times vulgar, it is more than ever important that we pay attention to what our kids are hearing. Most of them have had a good dose of hateful and intolerant messages in what they have heard. In April 2016, a now well-cited survey of 2,000 teachers conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance Program found that more than half of the teachers surveyed reported seeing an increase in uncivil discourse in their schools.
Younger kids aren't developmentally ready to process the deeper meanings of what they hear, and older children aren't quite ready to process the emotional and ethical ramifications of what they hear. Children who identify as part of a minority group may internalize the messages which can lead to increased distress. When kids repeat what they have heard they can hurt themselves and hurt others.
Diana Jenkins, a Pauline Books and Media author who spent over 20 years as special education teacher, offers a wonderful article on one place where hurtful language can be most painful: Cyberbullying: How to Spot It. She points out six ways to spot when cyberbullying might be happening and some steps you can take.
You can also take a step back and assume a more proactive role in helping the kids you influence become respectful and kind. Here are four simple ideas:
- When you hear disrespectful language and see others being treated without dignity in the media or in person, engage the kids who are witnessing it with you in conversation. Explain why you treat others with respect and why that is important to you.
- Make sure kids know they can speak with you about situations that are confusing or in which people are being hurt.
- Introduce kids to families of different cultures. Sample foods, share customs, learn a few words in different languages.
- Teach children to feel good about and love their own culture. Show them how you respond to intolerant acts and explain to them why you do so.
Kids love to be important. The article Bringing the Good News: A Letter from Jesus is a great way for children to realize that as followers of Jesus they are on a mission to bring his LOVE into the world. Jesus decided to find the right people for this job: the apostles and today you and me and the kids you know and love. After you read the letter from Jesus in class, it might be a great idea to make a list of movies that show kids making a difference in the world through attitude and actions that show love and respect. They could watch the movies at home and report on them, or you might want to choose one to watch together as a discussion starter.