Whenever I have worked with young people, the issue of safety is obsessively focused on. You can’t touch them (unless it is in front of other people and even then it’s frowned upon). You can’t be too involved or concerned and above all you can’t share any personal information that would provide real world insight (see Seth Stambaugh’s firing for proof).
With all of this insane policing and regulating of children via fear, we miss several valid opportunities which would allow them to acquire skills that would serve them in confidently moving through the world in a way that allows for joy, accomplishment and effective problem solving.
Fellow educators and people who truly care for children are often marveled and aghast at my approach. I constantly tell adults who work with children to give the “safe environment” diatribe a rest. I find it boring, stupid, pointless and dangerous.
While classrooms and the world should be safe places, there are many times that this is far from the reality. We are not helping young people by filling their heads with the ridiculous notion that if you do the right thing, pray, treat people well, and hope for the best, things will work out.
While I have endeavored to keep my situations with young people trauma and oppression free, I have also been even more relentless in providing them with tools to cope with things should a situation take an unexpected turn. A concern for safety without any regard or attention on resilience is useless.
What young people need is lessons in how to be both compassionate and determined. When skills that are based on resilience are taught and mastered, the ability to succeed and keep pushing towards a more favorable outcome increase.
The world is not always a safe place.
The need to create an environment that is always safe, non-challenging and accepting does a disservice to our young people. What is needed is the assurance that, yes, with me you are safe and that there will be times when people are not kind, things change and you must deal with the unexpected.
If you are unable to adjust your thinking, switch gears and effectively communicate, then move in another direction how will you thrive in this constantly changing society?
Safety is important. Young people need it to be able to take risks, try, fail and have a solid place to return before venturing out again. Safety without skills that allow for critical thinking will only lead to limited, unfulfilled lives.
The young people who recently committed suicide were not safe. School officials, parents and any and all adult allies did not keep these young folks safe. They also did not give them the ongoing support that is crucial in allowing folks to construct identities that provide a hearty “Fuck you. I will not disappear.”
When my baby sister left the country for the first time to travel overseas, I cried. When she asked why I was crying, I replied, “You are now in the world and I can’t protect you.”
It was clear to me then and now that what she and all folks need is beyond the safety that often masks itself as familiarity. She needed a self strong enough to sustain and triumph over anything.
While many people declare safety for our youth is important, many are not safe in their own homes. Runaways run away for a particular set of reasons.
We must teach our kids resilience. We must not teach through fear that if something is ignored it will go away or that if we, as adults, are uncomfortable (discussing sexuality, birth control, etc), then you have to remain silent.
As adults who have navigated an ever changing society and lived to tell the tale, it is our duty to share our stories. It is imperative that we tell how we made lives for ourselves. We must share how we survived our families of origin and hostile environments until we were able to figure out how to thrive despite unrelenting and fear inducing entities.