Read an Excerpt
FOR KIDS' SAKEWinning the Tug-of-War for Future Generations
By H. B. LONDON, JR. NEIL B. WISEMAN
RegalCopyright © 2004 H. B. London, Jr., and Neil B. Wiseman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCan't You Hear the Children Crying?
Listen with Your Heart
Being a kid these days is tough-harder than ever before. Unthinkable tragedies and dizzying upheaval in society have scarred our children's emotions and increased their fears. Children's sense of security has turned into worrisome panic. Sensually saturated TV and hardcore Internet pornography have helped rob our kids of their innocence.
Every social evil negatively impacts children. And every frightening TV report makes children think that they could be the next victims. They are worried, frightened and some are even afraid to go outdoors or to walk to school.
Terrorists flew giant jets into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and an open field in Pennsylvania. Thousands died. The crash sites looked like the jaws of hell. The nation mourned. In some families, a parent who left for work on September 11, 2001, never came home.
Regrettably, children of all ages-perhaps most of the nation's 70 million children-had front-row seats as the tragedy was repeated endlessly on TV. No wonder child psychologist Dan Kindlon felt compelled to write how all of this would affect children:
In the light of 9/11, I suddenly found myself, the father of two young children, caught up in a tragic historical event. The world in which my children were growing up had shifted on its axis. The rules had changed. It was no longer clear that they would always enjoy the comfort and security that most of us have.
Like the flood tide of an angry river, horrible events keep coming that frighten our kids and us.
Oklahoma City's children still suffer because a madman used a truck bomb to even some score with the government. One hundred seventy-two children lost a parent. A nation mourned. Adults were frightened and outraged.
"Columbine"-the word has come to mean school shootings. After seeing all of the carnage, children wonder if their school will be next. Since the first school shooting in Moses Lake, Washington, in 1996, at least 25 more shootings have been reported in the United States. Thirty-eight students have been murdered, six teachers killed and more than 100 students wounded in these hate-filled incidents.
Added to planes plowing into buildings, the Oklahoma City bombing and Columbine school shootings were many more disconcerting events. The following is a short list of national tragedies since 1996:
Code orange security alerts
Space shuttle Columbia disaster
War with Iraq
Washington, D.C. area snipers' wounding of a 13-year-old boy and the subsequent shutting down of school recesses and football games
Federal agents' seizing of 6-year-old Cuban Elian Gonzalez
Schoolyard killings in Kentucky, Oregon, Mississippi and Arkansas
Pipe bomb exploding at the summer Olympics in Atlanta
Paris-bound TWA flight explosion that killed 230, including a high school touring group
Every child has many reasons to be afraid for him- or herself, family and friends. The life of a child isn't easy these days.
They Are All Our Children, Aren't They?
Former Senator Sam Nunn has told about a small girl gunned down by a sniper during the Sarajevo conflict.
At the moment of the shooting, a reporter dropped his pencil and pad as he rushed to the man who was holding the seriously wounded child and helped them into his car.
As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man with the bleeding child on his lap pleaded, "Hurry, my child is still breathing." A moment later, "Hurry, my child is still warm." Finally, in anguish, "Hurry, oh, my God, my child is getting cold."
When they arrived at the hospital, the girl was dead. As the two men washed blood from their hands and clothes, the man turned to the reporter and said, "This is a terrible task for me. I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken."
The reporter was amazed. As he looked at the grieving man, he said with surprise, "I thought she was your child."
The man looked back and said, "No, but aren't they all our children?"
He is right. They are all our children, and they are crying. Some are even dying, shooting each other and killing themselves. Such incidents worry our children, many of whom are crying for hundreds of dismal reasons. When we listen with our hearts, their sobs wound us deeply and make us want to find ways to alleviate their misery.
Some at-risk children are close by; other children are in foreign lands. Can you hear them crying? Will you do something to help the following children?
Refugee children sobbing for their family in their homeland
Inner-city children crying for friends who died in drive-by shootings
Latchkey children wiping tears as they go home to empty houses
Depressed children crying for help as they consider killing themselves
Rejected children crying because they are shut out of cliques
Brokenhearted children weeping because their parents have divorced
Frightened children quietly weeping after being bullied by classmates
Juvenile killers sobbing in prison cells because they committed adult crimes
How Do Children Personalize Tragedies?
Like many adults, children worry about situations that are out of control or fear events that likely will never occur. Many of them think of a TV report as something very close to home. They begin expecting the worst news to come to fruition in their own lives. Think how traumatized kids feel about issues like divorce, death, drugs, peer rejection, alcohol, absentee parents, sexual abuse, suicide, AIDS, guns and career-driven parents. Innocence is being lost earlier than at any other time in history. As a child, did you have worries like these?
A 7-year-old boy in Denver told his mother as he was being tucked into bed for the night, "I am sorry to see people die. I am glad I do not have to go to that school. I'm afraid to grow up."
A 10-year-old girl told her teacher she feared being raped because of what she saw in the ghetto where she lived.
A 12-year-old boy asked his dad if they could move out of New York City to a safe place in the country.
A SWAT team police officer-one of the first to answer the call to Columbine High School and a father whose children attended that school-said that it was too up close and personal. That's what many feel these days. Littleton, Jonesboro, Springfield and Paducah are not the only places where those headlines potentially exist. Thousands of disasters are waiting to happen in many locations.
Imagine what it was like for children who lived near Ground Zero in New York. Their world was fractured in an instant. After the tragedy, one displaced boy had new clothes, new toys, went out to dinner every day for weeks and stayed in friends' apartments because the building where he had lived was no longer habitable. But that didn't ease his pain. He wanted to go home.
How Do We Answer the Hard Questions Following the Tears?
"What are the answers?" Jefferson County (Colorado) sheriff John Stone asked following the Littleton shooting. Visibly shaken by what he saw during the investigations, his voice quivered with grief as he answered his own question, "We don't have the answers."
Another civic leader said, "We must seize the moment and do something."
Everybody wants the haunting questions answered: Why do children commit violent acts? What can we do? Why do I feel so helpless?
A significant answer to this moral riddle popped up in a TV interview Tim Russert had with Janet Reno, then attorney general of the United States. Russert asked if the federal government could do anything about this school violence. Reno replied that everybody can do something about it.
Perhaps the best way to seek answers is to listen carefully to questions from ordinary people who try to sort through the problems.
Does anyone listen to children? An insightful article written by a teenager for the Denver Post following the Littleton shootings offered this advice to adults: "Teens want parents to hear them, and they will talk. When they do talk to you, listen and do not tell them what is right and wrong and what to think. Just listen."
Are kids taught to value the right things? Mary Pipher, in her engaging foreword to William Pollack's book Real Boys, said, "All children are growing up in a culture in which adults are teaching them to love the wrong things." It's a serious charge, but it seems true, doesn't it? This reality demands attention in a society that is overfocused on stuff, status and financial security. Many children have everything they want but little of what they need.
Does the coarsening of society contribute to the problems of children? The coarsening of society shows up in obscenities shouted in gridlock traffic. Four-letter words are often used on TV talk shows. The issue is so common in our society that Elizabeth Austin asked the question, "Can we get along without the 'F' word?"
Shunned by cliques? The need for belonging is as human as bones and brains. Not being accepted by peers often makes a child feel like a worthless outcast. The problem compounds when insiders tease or when outsiders harass. At Columbine, the teen killers were considered strangely weird-members of the trench-coat mafia. Some fellow students say tormentors sometimes shoved the perpetrators into their lockers. Such bullying invites trouble. The rage it creates can become lethal, as it did at Columbine.
Where were the parents? Stephen Carter throws a bright new light on this issue: "Parents do not act in a vacuum; they act in a culture. And the culture sends its own messages. When those messages are in competition, rather than cooperation, with what parents try to teach, we can predict trouble." Parents must be continuously vigilant, frequently evaluating attitudes and actions of their children. The pressing challenge is to really know children and to become reacquainted with them as they grow from one stage to the next. Understanding a 14-year-old is different from relating to a 10-year-old.
Is self-love the problem? A Denver newspaper columnist speaks to this ever-present issue like a flaming Old Testament prophet: "We-the most self-indulgent, self-adoring, self-esteemed generation in history-have screwed it up-in our forever-adolescent vernacular-'big time.' We've indulged our kids and ourselves with unprecedented materialism. We've pursued interests and careers with unparalleled zeal while relegating our children's care and upbringing to hired substitutes, schools and government." Youth coddled with self-love and surrounded by violence may be the incendiary root for what is happening these days.
Harvard psychologist Dan Kindlon agrees. After quoting then-President Jimmy Carter's assessment that Americans are beset by a malaise-a crisis of the spirit characterized by self-indulgence and consumption-Kindlon makes a strong case that self-centered values make it difficult for children to cope with adversity. He says, "Me-first attitude can compromise the health of our society when a crisis demands personal sacrifice." Parents, children and church leaders alike need the quiet word of Teresa of Avila: "We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God."
Has faith been lost from the soul of our society? Maybe not completely lost, but faith is distant, puny and mute. Something is radically wrong, for example, when hateful comments, class-made videos depicting killings, black trench coats and even Nazi salutes were allowed in the name of tolerance at Columbine High School. Something is radically wrong in a society that, in the name of free speech, allows national magazines to publish endless trash about commitment-free sex for teens or a perfume company to run a line of advertisement that says, "If living with obsession is a sin, then let me be guilty!"
To such a situation, Os Guiness says, "Let them tithe their profits to contribute to the recovery and care of young lives ruined by sexual abuse. American children are not the problem. American adults are. But it is hardly fair that adults rethink the causes only when children pay the consequences."
Where Is Our Spiritual Awakening?
On May 27, 1999, Darrell Scott addressed the United States House of Representatives. Scott is the father of two victims of the Columbine shootings: a daughter, Rachel Joy, who was killed, and a son, Craig, who survived.
In his blunt testimony, Scott sounded like a modern-day Jeremiah: "The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher and the other children who died must not be in vain. Columbine was not just a tragedy. It was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies!"
The grief-stricken father courageously continued by reading a poem that should be heard by every civic leader at all levels of government. He said: "I wrote a poem four nights ago that expresses my feelings best," he said. "That was before I knew I would be speaking here today.
"Your laws ignore our deepest needs.
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage.
You've outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms.
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere.
And ask the question 'Why?'
You regulate restrictive laws
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand
That God is what we need."
Then Darrell Scott somberly offered this chilling analysis: "The real villain lies within our own hearts. Political posturing and restrictive legislation are not the answers. The young people of our nation hold the key. There is a spiritual awakening taking place that will not be squelched. We do not need more religions. We do not need more gaudy television evangelists spewing out verbal religious garbage. We do not need more million-dollar church buildings built while people with basic needs are being ignored. We do need a change of heart and a humble acknowledgment that this nation was founded on the principle of simple trust in God."
Denver Post columnist Ken Hamblin sounded a clear-as-day wake-up call to this moral barrenness in our national psyche: "With adolescents slaughtering one another in increased record numbers, we don't have a lot to lose by reintroducing God and the spiritual principles of right and wrong back into America's public schools."
Excerpted from FOR KIDS' SAKE by H. B. LONDON, JR. NEIL B. WISEMAN Copyright © 2004 by H. B. London, Jr., and Neil B. Wiseman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.