Six Dead Kids Who Needed More than Safety

By | March 11, 2011

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.

4 thoughts on “Six Dead Kids Who Needed More than Safety

  1. Ed Smith

    Great Article! I agree with your statments. Infact, I find it fascinating how my parents and generations prior to mine matured earlier in life. They were “adults” at 18 and were married with children by the mid 20’s. Today people fail to mature as soon and ussually step up to being a responsible adult in their 30’s. Perhaps all the nuturing and fuss over safety and feelings have stunted our development. The experiences that our parents had to endure to grow were as childern; now we take longer to grow and don’t experience these trials till we have moved out and away from the safety of our parents home and money.

  2. Nick Krayger

    We discussed this very fact at the school I work at today- should we protect our children from the world, or teach them natural consequences at an early age. I wish I knew what the answer was. The teacher in me says TEACH THEM. The parent in me says PROTECT THEM as long as you can. I guess the answer is somewhere in the middle. NK

  3. Carol Cwik

    I love this post. I completely agree, as a parent I want to protect my kids from harm as much as I can. I personally see the problem with so much protection, my children are not as prepared for the outside world as they need to be. The world is not the same place that we grew up in as children, our parents had no idea what teen suicide was. Being so close to my children and their friends makes me fully aware of it all of the time. Trying to find that perfect balance is a stress we all have to face.

  4. Shanice Boreland

    I remember this topic being discussed in my Psychology class and i found it to be a very touchy topic. My father never fully protected me from the world; he taught me certain lessons and allowed me to experience some on my own. Today I thank him for that because I’m far more mature than my friends, I know what to expect in life on my own. However, my father struggled to protect me from the world but he knew deep down inside what would have been the end result if he did. He always said “I don’t know when God is going to call me and I don’t want to leave you unprepared for the real world.”


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