My audacious idea is that we all commit to protecting and nurturing our children.
Protecting our children requires responsible parenting. It is unacceptable that any child lives in a home where he or she is not wanted and cared for. It is up to us as a community to show all children that they have value, through an investment of time in their lives, by offering words and acts that affirm their worth, and by helping struggling parents connect with resources that can make them better caregivers. One element of this strategy includes focusing on children who become parents before graduating from high school. By providing emotional support to teenagers, we can change the motivation of teens wanting to have children. Teenage girls and boys need to know and believe that a baby is not their only source of worth or unconditional love. This can be accomplished with the help of teachers, mentors and positive role models, and through parenting skills classes and birth control education and access. For teens who do become parents during high school, we must provide a way for them to receive the education and degrees necessary for them to earn a salary that can support a child and family.
Protecting our children means providing consistent structure and rules. I see this as one of the first steps in providing a safe, nurturing and stable environment for kids to live, grow and learn. We must engage them with age-appropriate literature and activities, and ask parents to serve as a strong bridge between school and home by storytelling, asking about their child’s day, and actively engaging with key stakeholders in their child’s education. Set and keep high standards regarding the messages and behaviors modeled to our children. With the leadership of parents, principals, teachers, and counselors, we must make our schools safe once again.
Protecting our children means stemming the violence that surrounds them. 1 in 6 girls and women and 1 in 33 boys and men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. 44% of victims of sexual assault are under age 18, and 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker. This means that their attackers are fathers, aunts and uncles, neighbors, teachers, coaches, pastors, classmates and other “trusted” adults. We must put an end to this violence. Suburbs, cities and rural areas do not deserve the title of “community” unless we as adults afford children the protection they deserve and put an end to physical and sexual abuse.
Protecting our children means helping them grow into fit, healthy and active kids. Many children are undernourished, understimulated and don’t engage in enough physical activities, yet when they act up in school, one of our first instincts is to put them on drugs. I say let’s be slower to diagnose conditions such as ADD and its version 2.0, ADHD. Let’s be quicker to offer nutritious meals to children at home and in school. Let’s provide consistency and structure at home and in school. And let’s increase the opportunities for kids to be active in school, through recess, physical education, summer/after school programs; and in the community, through an increased number of neighborhood sports teams, and music, art and enrichment programs.
My idea is simple. Let us continue to critically analyze our roles as parents, teachers and mentors by asking “In what other ways can we protect the well being of our children?” Once we answer that question, let’s take those actions to protect our children.