In the aftermath of last week’s tragic Florida high school shooting, the collective adult voice continues to ring loud and clear on social media. Whether it’s a passionate call for gun reform or a desperate plea to make teenage mental health a priority, the proverbial heartstrings of the average American adult are strumming.
The purpose of my sharing is not to take sides on these highly emotional and often divisive topics. There are countless articles out there that articulate several unique perspectives on each of these issues.
I’m writing to shed some light on the quiet spectators in the arena of this largely grown-up debate. You see, while we (adults) are busy taking intellectual jabs at those who oppose our views, an entire population of young people are sitting in the stands, acutely observing the way in which the players are competing.
If one could somehow capture an illustration of this figurative debate arena, it would likely be full of unsettling and uncomfortable images. Instead of grown men and women sitting at the table of civil discourse, you’d undoubtedly see images of the tables turned upside down, chairs being thrown in the air, and fists at the ready.
Perhaps the most troubling image in this illustration would be the adults looking to the spectators and selfishly saying, “We’ve got this. You just keep going to school and we’ll take care of everything else.”
The reality is the adult population alone isn’t going to solve these problems. It’s absolutely necessary that we bring the student voice out of the stands and allow them to participate in a much more meaningful arena. It’s called human connection. Unlike the intellectual jabs we see in the adult arena, human connection is predicated on a genuine, authentic interest in the well-being of one’s peers.
I have the great pleasure of working with elementary aged students every week. Each time I visit with them, my mission is always the same – to empower young people with social and emotional intelligence strategies, designed to create positive, systemic change from the inside-out.
Last week, while discussing the topic of servant leadership, I posed a question to a classroom full of fourth graders.
What breaks your heart?
Almost immediately, a fourth grader said to me, “It breaks my heart to hear about students being shot and killed in schools. I wish there was something I could do about it.”
Given my interest in moving students from a passive role of spectator to an active role of world-changer, I responded with the following.
“You can absolutely do something about it.
Start by choosing to see the unseen. Always be on the lookout for kids who are alone, isolated, picked on, or teased. They need your presence.
Show kindness to those who you may not even think deserve it. Instead of seeing a fellow classmate as mean or rude, understand they may be hurting. Your small act of kindness could be the very thing that heals their hurting heart.
Instead of just saying thank you to others, try saying “I appreciate you.” People need to know they’re valued. When you say thank you, you’re acknowledging an act of kindness. When you say I appreciate you, you’re acknowledging the value of the human being behind the act of kindness.
If you see or hear of something suspicious, tell an adult immediately. While some may call this tattling, I call it a warning. Your warning may very well save someone’s life.
Finally, take the time to work on yourself. The more you nurture your own character, the more you will influence the character of those around you. When you lead yourself, you give others permission to do the same.”
I invite you to share my response to this fourth grader’s question with any young person you know.
Josh Shipp, a youth empowerment expert, is famously quoted as saying, “Every kid is ONE caring adult away from being a success story.”
I would argue that the same is true if you replace the word adult with kid.
“Every kid is ONE caring kid away from being a success story.”