Spending almost half of my life working in a school capacity, I have seen a lot of issues involving children. Lately it seems to have grown strikingly more serious — more aggression, more serious crimes, the anger, the hurt. Those who serve children in a school capacity have to bare the brunt of it all. For many children, they exhibit a brokenness that cripples them daily. Often, this brokenness can be from the root:
Parenthood can be one of the toughest things we can do in life. It is a lifelong process of molding a person into becoming the best version of themselves. This doesn’t end at
age 18 or when they leave home. Having this child is a lifelong commitment. It’s a commitment to grow this child under your care with as few traumas as possible so that they don’t revisit them to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren. It is a lifelong, selfless commitment.
It is not having a child and then feeling like they owe you something. Nor to be jealous should they leave the nest and become more successful and happier in life. That’s the plan: For them to grow under your care to achieve more than you or could ever imagine. That’s the success of parenthood: The ultimate selfless act.
When I have many of our most challenging children in schools, I always ask the question, “What happened to you?” I’m not looking at them simply for what they did wrong or labeling them “bad kids,” but what happened to them?
On many occasions, I see an issue with a mother (don’t worry, fathers are next). I see many students with that single mother in the home trying to do it all. Stressed. Many mothers handle this extremely well with near perfection. Some sadly struggle with the weight of it all. I’ve seen mothers keep fathers who want to be there away due to a failed relationship. Others allow an inconsistent, abusive father to weave in and out of the child’s life, just trying to have any man there for support. There are mothers who resent the father and take the pain out on her child — cussing them out daily for minor things, becoming overly physical with them, and even telling a child that they were unwanted. When you ask them, some mothers don’t know why the mere sight of a child sends them into that rage. They are hurt, alone, and trying to juggle it all in the face of an absent man.
And these children come into a school building broken. So broken, that all they can do is rage. Forget math class, they are struggling in life class.
The other half is what I see most common: The father issue. There are some extremely great fathers of many of our children. But far too many of our children are products of absent or inconsistent fathers. Fathers who’s only contribution to this child was creating them. Fathers who inconsistently weave in and out of a child’s life. Many times showing up to levy discipline, make broken promises, give a poor example of how to love or treat a partner, and then become the first person to walk out of a child’s life. I’ve heard many men tout child support as a significant contribution. Sadly, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the efforts a single parent must endure.
The real child support is waking up at 2 a.m. holding that child because they had a bad dream. Watching them repeatedly say “look at me” when they simply do a jumping jack or something close to one. To get woken up out of a deep sleep to be told they forgot they had homework and need your help for math in a way you never learned. For a child to simply hear the words from a father’s mouth, “I am so proud of you.”
Our children need men to fill in these critical gaps far more than ever. This is child support. This is fatherhood. No amount of cash equals the absence of a father.
In the midst of it all, is the child. With the inconsistencies of the root (parenting), we can’t be surprised at the inconsistencies exhibited in some of our children. Unequipped to deal with conflict, they fight or shoot. Without ever receiving affection or validation from parents, they yearn for it in the streets from others with juvenile behavior (car thefts, fights, criminal behavior). We wonder why — in many cases — the juvenile crimes rise.
Inconsistent parenting from us leads to inconsistent little humans and their behavior. Not always, but in many cases.
I wish I had the magic solution to it all as I witness these stories firsthand. But we can start somewhere. Every example I have stated is a combination of real incidents. It plays out every school year and grows more and more. We as parents and a community must be more intentional on our parenting. The community and elected officials must be more intentional with supports (housing, financial, mental health services, etc.). We as parents must be intentional in the countenance we pour into these children. Holding them accountable should they begin turning astray, modeling adult behaviors we want them emulating, and stopping the traumas passed down to us from reaching them. Breaking those generational curses.
There are some experiences children need to endure to be whole. The small things matter. A small trip out of town, family sitting at one table for a meal, saying “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I am glad you are my child,” common chores and responsibilities, etc. Give them the tools to become mentally healthy by giving them the least amount of traumatic experiences as possible.
A normal human brain doesn’t fully finish developing until the early to mid 20s. This is projected without serious traumatic experiences. The more traumatic experiences (yelling in the home, poverty, domestic violence, motherless home, fatherless home, lack of love, missed needed experiences) slows that process down.
If a child constantly experiences pain, poverty, absence and violence, those are neuropathways carved into their brains. It will take extensive therapy to undo and carve new pathways for them to respond better in those situations.
This is why Frederick Douglass stated, “It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.”
This cannot be thrown at the feet of any school district alone to solve. This is an all-hands-on-deck approach that is needed to save the village.
“Children who do not feel embraced by the village, will burn it down to feel its warmth …” — African Proverb
— Demario Boone is Peoria Public Schools Director of Public Safety