“Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes
and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”
~ Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Bible, Mathew 21:16
According to some Biblical scholars, the meaning of the above-captioned quote is that children can often see and express truths in their purest forms that adults often overlook or fail to grasp. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, children are writing to President-Elect Donald Trump asking him to be kind, and the mother of the little boy who inspired this effort has established a private Facebook page to allow children to post their letters and comments about kindness to Mr. Trump.
Politics aside, one of the issues that took front and center stage during the bruising 2016 Presidential election was the extreme incivility and bullying that was demonstrated, identified by the WaPo as the “Trump Effect.” While it’s true that political campaigns in general can be pretty negative, candidate Trump’s beyond-the-pale behavior took negativity to a whole new level and rocked our sensibilities.
Those who teach and live or work with children, adolescents, teenagers and young adults — i.e., parents, grandparents, godparents, teachers, professors, school administrators and counselors and independent etiquette consultants and trainers — were especially concerned about the negative effect that such unacceptable behavior by a powerful and influential individual would have on young people across the nation and around the world. Years of hard work and progress in teaching proper social and professional behavior and providing techniques and encouragement to counter bullying, intimidation, body shaming, sexual discrimination and assault and other deeply hurtful behaviors seem now to be on the brink of unraveling under such an assault on civility.
Instituting Damage Control
But we are not helpless. We know how to practice damage control and we can call upon that ability to counter negative messages, even if they do emanate from the next leader of the free world. That means that whatever we were doing before to teach our children right from wrong we must now do in double and triple time. With this in mind, here is my suggested action plan upon which to build:
- Acknowledge the Problem: There is no value in ignoring the problem or pretending it does not exist. The poor examples set by the President-Elect have permeated and will continue to permeate every aspect of our lives for the foreseeable future. Therefore, acknowledge such questionable behavior and attitude and talk with children about how it makes them feel. Reinforce the idea that decent behavior, an inclusive approach and a positive attitude toward others are the right things to do. Encourage young people to analyze the behaviors of public figures (e.g., elected officials, celebrities, sports figures and the like) and help them to decide when a public figure’s behavior needs improvement or, conversely, shows improvement. Teach them that there are ways to express opinions or make decisions without personally attacking those who disagree. Reiterate that no matter who you are or how much money or power you have it is never okay to behave badly; in fact, the more power one has the more responsibility she or he has to set a good example.
- Support Our Daughters: The horrific body shaming, focusing on women’s looks and weight and bragging about sexual assaults by the President-Elect have taken a toll on girls’ views of themselves and compromised efforts to counter the difficulties girls face growing up. Responsible adults must increase and expand their efforts to reassure girls that their worth is not dependent on how they look, but who they are inside and what they can accomplish. Encourage girls to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and exercise both their bodies and their brains. Continue to advise them on staying safe in school, on campus and in the workplace and how to resist bullying and sexual discrimination and assault in all their forms.
- Teach Our Sons: While boys are also susceptible to bullying and are victims of sexual assault, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime the statistics show that males from adolescents to the elderly are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual crimes. Thus, we need to make sure that our sons understand that everything they have been taught about proper behavior toward others still stands, and encourage them to follow a healthy, safe and respectful lifestyle and use common sense. The mantra that “everybody’s doing it,” is no reason to compromise one’s character and moral values.
- Set An Example: The best way to guide our children is to set the best examples we can of the types of behavior we expect, starting in our own homes and in our own communities. A close-knit family and community, regardless of political affiliations, can ground a child and help him or her deal with the outside world. Practicing kindness, inclusiveness, fairness, generosity and good citizenship will help build character in children of all ages.
- Establish Good Citizenship: In the U.S., there are many avenues for citizens to make an impact, and children need to know which are acceptable, productive and age-appropriate. As we’ve seen, children can write letters and post comments under adult supervision. They can respectfully voice their opinions and listen to the opinions of others. As they grow older, they can volunteer at organizations that share their values and beliefs. As young adults, they can volunteer to sit on boards in their communities, become active in a political party or even run for office. They can continue to write letters and emails and make phone calls to their elected officials — including those on community and municipal boards and committees, alderpeople, county legislators and executives, state senators and assemblypeople, U.S. Senators and Representatives and the President. They can also write letters to the editors of local and national news publications; comment on social media (responsibly and respectfully) and publish their own blogs. In addition, young adults can and should join and donate to organizations that represent common goals; participate in peaceful marches and demonstrations; and, of course, once they reach the age of 18 perform the ultimate act of good citizenship: vote in every local, state and national election for candidates and for or against referendums and propositions. Encouraging our children at any age to practice such good citizenship by taking an active part in America’s model of self-governance will help them to make their voices heard and steer the Ship of State in the direction they want it to go.
Kids Are Smart
Circling back to the point of this entry, the pithy observations of children, we can be comforted by some studies. One conducted in 2007 showed that babies less than a year old could distinguish nice people from nasty people quite effectively. Another study illustrated how young children can be very savvy when judging a person’s character. Another series of studies demonstrated how children value “moral purity” over conflicted morals. Thus, we should not underestimate children’s ability to assess people for who and what they are with astonishing clarity.
Of course, that does not mean that kids do not need continuous adult guidance; but what it does mean is that there is hope that the guidance will be successful, based on the natural ability of children at their very core to understand right from wrong.
Until next time,