Trying to shield your children from the harsh realities of life may do more harm than good
As a teacher, the most important lesson I have learned is the importance of being forthright with students when dealing with personal, societal, and global issues. Teaching English, my students and I discuss weighty issues daily, such as prejudice, oppression and identity because these univeresal dilemmas are stamped all over the pages of literature. Mostly, I try to approach these issues with kid gloves. The world is full of families with differing histories and values, and discussing issues of race, gender, and religion can be like tiptoeing through a minefield of explosive parents.
Even so, I try to promote positive, fruitful discussion on these topics. I do this because I have seen wonderful life lessons come from frank approaches to what others would consider topics “too dark and mature” for students.
Mahatma Gandhi’s statement echoes loudly to me as both educator and parent: “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” Our world is filled with heartbreaking problems: racism, gender discrimination, bullying, and more. And avoiding these truths makes for a lose-lose situation individually and globally.
For example, how can our children have a better future if we are ashamed to show them the real world in its ugliness? How can our children feel empowered to make change if we allow them to be blind to the suffering around them? Perhaps the scariest question is most important: How can our children remain safe in this world if we do not show them its dangers in all their stark brutality?
Take school shootings. Each new year, I go over “lockdown” procedures in case of an intruder. When I explain them, I see students’ eyes fill with fear. I detest planting seeds of anxiety, but avoiding reality won’t make the possibility go away, and false security could cost them their lives. Knowledge is power, and we must be willing to give it even if it does cost a little in tranquility.
In my class and home, I do not hide issues and pretend they do not exist; I discuss them openly. Good questioning is the heart of good teaching and parenting. How can I make my child a thinking being who makes wise choices if I never force him to ponder questions on life’s tougher moral issues? Socrates argued the only way to truth was to dialogue, asking the “why” and “how” of issues. For example, what is racism? Why does it happen? What can we do about it? How does it feel to be a victim? Our children cannot reach understanding if they never truly know the facts and questions underlying the problem.
For example, one day a student privately pulled me aside to talk. She asked me if thinking other girls were pretty made her weird. Part of me wanted to avoid the issue; obviously she was fighting some internal battle over her own identity. I wasn’t her parent; shouldn’t she be talking with them? However, this child needed answers. This was her identity and self-worth at stake. For whatever reason, she felt that she could not go to her parents. So I stepped carefully, explaining it's natural for people to see and appreciate the beauty in others. I told her that her thinking was normal and not something of which to be afriad.
To make a child knowledgeable, to give voice to global truths, to ponder differing trains of thought and perspectives does not mean we make the child prey to their ideology. If I read about racism, it does not mean I support it. To discuss things such as discrimination and oppression does not mean I think it acceptable. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I want my children to be educated. I want them to tackle the world with their eyes open. They are writing the pages of their own life story, and I want their choices to be informed -ones where they know the brutality and beauty they can impose on others.
Parents, your children know things- sorts of things that would keep you up at night. I hear them talk in the hallways with friends and in conversations both in and out of class. Do not deceive yourselves that you can hide the harsher parts of the world, for most likely, they are hiding their knowledge of these things from you.
So where will they get needed answers, and ask questions about which they desperately want information? Do you want them to discuss drugs will you or fellow thirteen- year olds? Do you want them to decide whether or not to go “all the way” with their besties? I sure don’t, so I will beat them to the punch every time with love and honesty.
As parents, we must be light bringers and sounding boards, not keepers of darkness. We must open lines of communication, not sever the valuable opportunity we have as mentors to our children. They are not innocent; our technologically advanced world has taken that part of their childhood away. Shelter them with knowledge; no one can make it more palatable and loving than you can. Be there first, and be there always.