A teenager from the town next to ours disappeared last week. This week they found her body, and a young man who lives in my town has been charged with her murder. Near as anyone here can figure out, she was seeing this guy or they were FB friends or something like that. It seems he may have been a predator, but details are sketchy and I prefer not to jump to any conclusions before this man has had his day in court. But I digress. What is my real reason for writing something now? Connection.
Yesterday, our local newspaper printed an article to remember the victim. There were several things in it that struck me. First, clearly this young woman was considered a "typical" teen. She loved school because she could hang out with her friends and she was, apparently, constantly connected to her cell phone so she could be talking and texting with her friends at all times. The article even mentioned how she had a hard time this past summer on a two week wilderness trip with her family because of the lack of cell phone connection and her inability to text. There was nothing, NOTHING in this article that our modern society would deem inappropriate for a kid her age. And that, my friends, THAT is the problem. As a society, we have become so disconnected from our children that the only things they have left to connect with are their peers. We consider this normal behavior, but in many other societies, it is not! Kids don't naturally connect to peers, they naturally connect to parents and caregivers. How have we pushed our children so far away from us that we think it is normal for a kid to not enjoy two weeks with their family because they didn't have a cell phone connection? Think about this--instead of telling her parents or other trusted member of her community or family that she was FB friends with this new, older guy, she was telling her friends. Instead of someone with more experience telling her to be careful and that maybe this wasn't a good idea, she had kids her own age telling her, "Oh, cool! He's cute!" Believe me, I'm NOT blaming the victim for being naive (perhaps she wasn't) and I'm not blaming her parents for being absent (perhaps they weren't). Again, details are sketchy and I'm not jumping to conclusions. What I am doing, however, is blaming SOCIETY for not recognizing what we are doing to children!
As a whole, we have a very sick society--and yes, these murders and acts of violence (marathon bombs, school shootings) are relatively rare. Really, they are. HOWEVER, while the acts of violence are rare, children with anxiety disorders, OCD, ADD, ADHD, obesity, diabetes...these things are not rare. We are a very sick society and the younger generation is getting sicker. Much of these problems can be directly linked to how we treat our kids and the way we force disconnection on them because society says we have to. (Ask yourself, honestly, why do your kids go to school? Is it because you truly think it is what is best for them?) We need to understand that this isn't about tough love or forcing kids to obey and all will be well. This is about completely changing how we treat the youngest and most vulnerable section of our society. We MUST begin to connect with these kids. Get them out of school if that isn't good for them. Find them alternatives to school and day care and, instead, let them play outside and learn and follow their passions. We need to let them be who they are with an adult beside them to support, nurture and fuel their desires (as opposed to an adult telling them what to do every day). It is about letting kids play in multi-age situations and learn from all kinds of people; older kids, younger kids, adults, etc. It is about telling a child that they are worthwhile, no matter what they are feeling in a given moment. Until we change the way we approach children in our society, we can continue to expect them to grow up disconnected and confused. We can expect them to make mistakes from which there is little ability to recover. We can expect mental illness, obesity, and depression. We can expect rare acts of violence to become more common and for us, as a society, to simply shake our heads and wonder what went wrong. I'm telling you here what is wrong. We are lacking a connection and we think it is normal. We think it is the way it is supposed to be! It isn't. There is another way. [Getting off soapbox now....]