I get chills down my spine every time I hear another horrific story about a young person being beaten or tortured or killed by another young person. It's disgusting! And then we hear the reporter or the police or the attorneys talking about the cause of the brutality…"technology," they say. It's texting, or e-mail, or video games that are at fault. Well I'm not buying it. Yes, there is a breakdown in communication in this country, but it's not the phone's fault — it's ours. And I will even venture to say it's not a total lack of communication that's broken, it's the message we're communicating.
I can recall the days before cell phones and e-mail (and I'm not that old!) The good old days when students communicated by passing notes in class. We used this method very effectively to expose crushes, make after school plans, talk crap about our teachers and pick fights. We lived in complete fear of that note being "caught" by our teachers because when it was, it was read aloud in front of the entire class, thereby teaching us a lesson in acceptable language & behavior by public humiliation. Texting is the younger generations "note passing," but heaven forbid a teacher try to confiscate that phone, or read a text aloud in front of the class today! OMG! That teacher would be suspended or worse, and that student's "rights" would be defended to the nth degree.
The only people communicating would be police, attorneys, and the media who all tell us the stories, but offer no solutions to the problem. And the student would bear no blame in any of it.
In the "old days" — back in the 80s, kids were kids. We left the house at the break of dawn on our bikes, and didn't return until the street lights came on. While we were out, we played, we swore like sailors, we got into trouble, we fought with people, we created drama, and we had a blast. At school, we arrived as early as we wanted to depending on how much we wanted to talk. If we missed the bus, we walked. We picked our friends at lunch and guarded "our table" like a pack of dogs. We decided who we wanted to play with and who we didn't. We played tag and dodge ball at recess, and kids got hurt (and survived) and when we screwed up, we got sent to the principal, and we were punished by the principal. We even served detention on a Saturday regardless of our family's "plans."
I know many of you are cringing at the thought of all of this and saying "things are harder and tougher and scarier now," but here's the thing: life is harder for our kids because we're making it harder for them. As a society, we've begun to shelter and micro-manage our children to the point that they're growing up with no accountability, no emotional intelligence, no responsibility, no fear of failure, no ability to safely express anger, and most importantly, no desire to acquire any those skills.
We tell our children from infancy who they will play with, what they will play with, how long is a "normal" amount of time to play with it, how they should play with it, and then we tell them it's not okay to get mad when something goes wrong or when they disagree with one of the rules we have created for them. We teach them that they shouldn't get mad when a child hits them, breaks their stuff, or takes something from them. We don't let them express their anger when they're furious with us or something else, because that makes us feel bad, and then as they get older, we tell them they're not allowed to talk back, or argue, or get mad at us — or their teachers — ever!
By forcing them to suppress their anger instead of teaching them how to express it properly, we're raising a generation of wussies who can't handle being made to "feel bad." Then, one day when all the hormones and the anger have built up, someone says something or does something that pushes that last button, and like an over-inflated balloon, under the pressure of it all, and with no knowledge of how to release it, they explode, and we don't understand.
We're so worried about scaring them that we keep them weak, and weak things eventually break.
Scars don't have to be painful or therapy worthy, but they can be lessons, and they do build strength. The scar on my hand taught me not to poke a dog while he's eating. The scar in my heart from losing my brother Jesse taught me to always say "I love you" because you never know when you won't have that chance again. The scars from my childhood taught me that people don't like to be called names, teachers can fail you just for being disrespectful, kids don't play with you if you're mean, and parents screw up too — but they still love you.
What it all boils down to is this: Times are getting scary, and kids are losing control, but it's not technology's fault. It may not even be a total lack of communication. Perhaps it's the lack of the right communication. The communication that teaches them that it is okay to get angry, screw up, get caught, learn a lesson, and feel bad, and here's the right way to let that all out — because it's all part of growing up, and it's all good.
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