America: The Kids Are Listening

Last week I met with a black teen who was told to “Go back to Africa” in “Trump’s America.” She was reasonably shaken. 

Her experience sat heavy with me as a white American. Thinking the incident was horrid, but believing it was isolated, I casually asked my 7th grader in the car if he had heard anything like that. Honestly, I expected his answer to reassure me. I was sure the answer would be, “No.” My community is full of nice people. 

He said, “Oh, yeah. There is a group of 8th graders saying stuff like that in the halls at school to kids who walk by.” 


While I was processing what I had just heard, my 5th grade daughter was listening. She became teary-eyed. She said she feared her Mexican friend was going to be deported. I asked her where she heard that, and she said it was from kids at school. All the kids have been talking about how this might happen to their sweet friend, and everyone is scared and upset that any morning they will all arrive to school and hear that she’s been shipped away during the night. 

Good grief.

And then this morning, I heard from a friend and colleague that she was flagged down on the highway by a truck with flashing headlights. Thinking there was an emergency, she pulled to the side. The truck rolled down its window, so she did the same. A male teen then shouted at her “fucking cunt” for having a political sticker on her car that didn’t agree with his views.

What in the world?

America, the kids are watching. They are listening. They are sitting within earshot overhearing our conversations. They are learning from our examples, even when we don’t believe they are. 

We are just past the most vicious presidential election in my lifetime. Maybe in the early days of our democracy there were worse, but in modern times, this one stands out. It’s clear from the behavior of our children that the adults have work to do to bring back a sense of brotherly love to our communities. 

It’s not a time to blame and point fingers. It’s not a time to say, “Well, they come from bad families.” I genuinely doubt that the parents of any of the kids saying awful things sat them down and instructed them in the ways of hate. It may be easy for good people to imagine that only the worst kinds of kids, from the worst kinds of families, would behave this way. But I’m guessing the kids weren’t coached to be hateful. Blaming bad parents is just another form of “us” versus “them.”

Likely, the kids heard something, and they took it to an extreme. Kids, especially teens, are prone to take things further than parents’ permissions allow. They push the limits. They take liberties with the rules. 

Kids feel the division, and they take it a step further. They mirror back what they see, amplified. 

So I ask all of you, what are you going to do to help heal our communities? How are we going to exemplify our better values to the kids? How are we going to show our kids it’s okay?

Posted on November 14, 2016 .