1. Children need you to listen to them in a not-freaking-out kind of way. If this is true with small children, it must be triple true with teenagers. Grant had his first incident with bullying this week. I could tell something was wrong, and I had to ask a few questions before the whole truth came out, and it still took a couple of days before the story was ready to be told. I also learned that when the “lioness at the gate” finds out one of her cubs is getting knocked around, she doesn’t feel very docile at all. But since lionesses wandering the halls of elementary schools swiping at naughty children with her claws and growling at unobservant teachers is kind of frowned upon, I had to take a more civil approach. I will also rely more heavily on child-specific prayers than before.
2. Children today are much more savvy about the world –both the good and the evil– than we give them credit for, but they don’t really know what it all means. They know stuff is out there; they see it and hear about it, but it’s hard to make sense of it all. I think this is partially because we live in a mass-media generation and a whole spectrum of news, music, pop culture and images are hurled upon them before they can possibly know how to navigate it all. (That just reminded me of an awesome Elder Holland quote. I’ll dig it up at the end of the post.) This is why point #1 is important. They need the help of someone older and wiser to help them make sense of all the mixed messages they get from the world. You’re the best candidate for that if you’re a listener and they know it. I’ve also learned this week that sometimes they won’t know it unless you just tell them that you’re a listener and then prove it.
3. This is a weird topic to bring up, and believe you me, I did not expect to have hour-long discussions with my children about it while they are this young, but anyway . . . Did you know that all the messages out there (both in popular culture and in the teasing words that children say on the playgrounds) can confuse young children about issues like gender-identity and sexual orientation? Remember how when we were little, it was really normal for children to go through a “cooties” stage– where girls think boys are yucky, and boys think girls are gross? I’ve realized this week, that in the context of current social culture, it is very easy for children to become confused about what that means. If a little boy doesn’t like girls and just likes to hang out with boys (which is TOTALLY normal at certain levels of development) he could be teased about being “gay.” Since children are much more aware of issues like homosexuality and same-gender attraction than we were in generations past, (again I emphasize that awareness does NOT equal understanding), they may not know how to reconcile those issues with their own feelings. Lest you jump to weird conclusions, all this stemmed from Grant being called a slur at school, not really understanding it, and not knowing if that word was a true label for him or not. Talking about it openly and honestly helped him to get a much clearer picture of himself and his own feelings. My point is: Holy buckets, it’s a hard world to be a child in! Can you even imagine all the crap (sorry, I couldn’t think of a better word) they have to try to sort through and figure out? And at such a young age? To not be misunderstood, this is not a battle cry for homeschooling or any kind of parenting movement other than BEING AWARE and LISTENING and ASKING QUESTIONS, and for goodness sake, PRAYING a LOT!
4. I realize that points 1, 2 and 3 all kind of ended up being the same thing. Whatever.
5. Thank God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. When I can draw upon the scriptures and the family proclamation and the teachings of living prophets to help my children navigate this crazy world they live in, I feel adequately armed. (I am still scared, but I’m so glad I can call on divine help.) I can give them a context and framework for all they see and hear and feel. I can share my testimony and express confidence in them. I can say, “You can come and talk to me and your dad about anything and we will listen and we (you and us together with God’s help) will find the answers.” I can stand in the shower and plead with Heavenly Father to help me understand their little hearts and help me to say the right things. And He hears me and helps me. I just realized that He’s the one who teaches me how to listen.
“In such times as we are in, whether the threats be global or local or in individual lives, I too pray for the children. Some days it seems that a sea of temptation and transgression inundates them, simply washes over them before they can successfully withstand it, before they should have to face it. And often at least some of the forces at work seem beyond our personal control.
“Well, some of them may be beyond our control, but I testify with faith in the living God that they are not beyond His. He lives, and priesthood power is at work on both sides of the veil. We are not alone, and we do not tremble as if abandoned. In doing our part, we can live the gospel and defend its principles. We can declare to others the sure Way, the saving Truth, the joyful Life. We can personally repent in any way we need to repent, and when we have done all, we can pray. In all these ways we can bless one another and especially those who need our protection the most—the children. As parents we can hold life together the way it is always held together—with love and faith, passed on to the next generation, one child at a time.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland