There are many ways in which to judge the advancement of a society. When artists imagine the future utopia of our world, communities are a zoning commission’s fantasy﹘a perfect marriage of nature and industry, with rich, emerald parks dotting a city that shines like a crystal; buildings gleaming in garments of glass and white steel, pillars of unfettered potential under a canopy of a pristine azure sky. How does one take the measure of such a place?
Technologically, with its recreational and industrial future-ware that allows people to dream bigger and create better? Environmentally, with unprecedented forays into conservation that not only gives back to nature much of the world we’ve taken but lessens our dependence on processed products in favor of all-natural whole foods? How about socially, where open forums for communication are bastions of tolerance and free-thinking that bring us closer together as a human family?
One could make an argument that each one of these ideals is the definitive sign of a truly enlightened society, but no evolutions in technology, environmentalism, or social advancement will mean much if we haven’t figured out how to better protect our children.
Evolutions in technology, environmentalism, or social advancement will not mean much if we haven’t figured out how to better protect our children.
Teaching the Best Lessons
What is more important to the future success of a child: their mental, emotional, or bodily protection? As adults, our job is to ensure all three, whether we have children ourselves or not. There are endless debates about how best to provide that protection, and there has been no stone left unturned in that regard; moving kids to a different school; taking them out of school altogether; giving money to politicians, unions, and churches; suing any or all of those institutions.
While we as a society try to find the best ways to ensure a healthy upbringing for kids with regards to their relationship with adults, many of a child’s worries could be removed if they saw their peers as allies rather than threats. Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but our response can be. So much of our children’s emotional, mental, and physical health can be protected and allowed to flourish if we could teach them how to better see and interact with themselves, their communities, and their world.
Mental and Emotional Health
Caring for the emotional needs of a child or adolescent is a tall order; the human brain doesn’t finish developing until the age of 25, at which time young adults begin thinking predominantly with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational center. That means that until the age of 25, a child thinks predominantly with the amygdala or emotional center of the brain.
A child’s emotional maturation is a balancing act of teaching them healthy ways to express their emotions, while also teaching them logical ways to look at their situation. Whether their emotions are the result of a personal tragedy, stresses at home or at school, or the fear of failure, adults can help kids develop mastery over their emotions so as to avoid unnecessary hardship.
- Teach them to express, not suppress: The suppression of one’s emotions can often lead to unhealthy outlets, and this is compounded in the lives of children. Teaching them that there are many ways to process their emotions is a great way to help them find relief. Neither they nor the adults in their lives should strive to suppress true feelings﹘simply let them feel and they will process things faster with a loving adult nearby who respects what they need.
- Validate what they express: An important distinction: validation doesn’t equal endorsement. Kids can be taught that they are enough without qualifications without the adult feeling like they have to like or accept everything the child decides to do. The goal is to teach them that they are not abnormal for feeling a certain way, nor does their worth come with stipulations.
- Two wrongs don’t make a right: Bullying is ultimately a cry for help, and reciprocation or joining in is not going to improve matters. There is also no plateau for bad decisions, especially if done in groups, and without conscious effort and outside help abuses tend to compound. Teaching kids that they can be a solution instead of a part of the problem will do a lot, not only for protecting their emotional health but even the health of the bully.
Emotional health is so closely tied to mental health that it is important to monitor both in the behavior of a child. Adolescent diagnoses of mental and emotional disorders are growing, with studies showing nearly 10% of kids aged 2-17 are dealing with some sort of condition, while young adult suicide rates are also through the roof (up 178% in ten years). While this may understandably feel like an insurmountable problem, giving kids individualized attention in a safe environment where they can realize their full potential is key in breaking the trend. Many schools have realized this and made it their mission to create such a place.
Protecting the physical health of a child is the responsibility of every adult, and as usual, there are best practices that can be employed to help.
- Teach them the value of fitness: Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America that is the result of poor habits at home, a bad diet, and a lack of positive help from parents and guardians. The irony of teaching a child to value their body by taking care of it starts with the adults in their life doing the same thing.
- Defending themselves isn’t an endorsement of violence: Kids’ karate dojos are nothing new but teaching someone how to protect themselves﹘or even to enjoy competitive fighting﹘is not giving permission to hurt others. Once they understand that, self-defense courses are a great way to keep them healthy.
- Education is Key: Parents will always have personal views on how to properly raise their children; it’s their right, and an active parent is ultimately the best thing for a child. But many tragedies can be avoided by properly educating kids to respect the more potentially dangerous aspects of society, like cars, guns, and sex. A healthy understanding of these things’ effect on an individual or society is never a bad thing.
By teaching children the best lessons, we can help keep kids safe inside and out and give them a chance to take control of their own futures.
Protecting Our Children’s Future
All of these lessons aren’t meant to turn children into prudish recluses, but rather to open up and interact with society in a positive and healthy way. By teaching them the best lessons, we give them a chance to take control of their own futures. Meanwhile, we adults can make changes of our own to ensure that our kids land on their feet when we aren’t there to help them. This is accomplished in a number of ways:
- Voting in national and local elections: The beauty of our democratic republic is that the elected officials are meant to represent our interests, or we find someone else. By making your voice heard in elections, you can help shape the society our children will inherit.
- Amending your trust or will: Our children preserve our legacy, both in living the principles we taught them, as well as literally taking custodianship of our assets and estate once we’re gone. Revising your estate plan often is a great way to ensure that your children are properly protected.
- Investing in education: This doesn’t mean that you need to make annual gifts to the local school district, per se. But making continuing education a part of your life is a great way to lead by example. That education can look like whatever you want it to﹘just don’t stop learning.
By fully understanding their role in a child’s life, an adult can have an immense impact on their future for good. If we are ever to see that bright and shining future so long dreamt of by artists and philosophers, our work begins in the home, today.
What are your suggestions for keeping kids safe?
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