It is amazing that since September 11th there has emerged a renewed sensitivity around a wide range of issues. Schools and local communities seem much more attentive to addressing issues of violence, harassment, discrimination and intolerance.
However, this renewed sensitivity cannot be expressed in a vacuum. The present generation has grown up with an almost blatant indifference to violence, threats of harassment, discrimination and intolerance at every level.
We need to keep a grounded perspective that does not enable and/or encourage obsessive compulsive reactions or fanatical extremism. We still live in a free society and want to respect people's basic human rights, even if we don't always agree with the content and character of what is being said.
People in every area of public service: law enforcement, criminal justice, educators and human service, must treat people with dignity and respect, whether we like them or not. We must be especially respectful towards young people, even if that respect is not reciprocal. We must lead by example.
If we genuinely want young people to be less violent, less discriminating and less intolerant, we need to teach them the way. Character and integrity education is sadly lacking in most of our schools. Paying lip service to these concerns in a few classes, at best in grades seven, nine and twelve, is probably an exercise in futility.
The concerns that real character and integrity education must address should first be presented in an age appropriate manner in pre-school. It should then be reinforced at every grade level until all students are seniors in high school. Although it would be appropriate from an academic point of view to have integrated into the health curriculum of every district a comprehensive approach to character and integrity education, it should not be the sole responsibility of our health teachers.
Every teacher at every level in every discipline, as well as every employed person from the Superintendent to those that maintain the buildings, should be expected in their sphere of influence to reinforce on a daily basis the principles of character and integrity education.
If this holistic approach to these vital concerns is embraced collaboratively by all school district personnel, then we have a chance at really making a difference in the growth and development of all our students.
This is a change for the present moment. More than ever, people at every level of bureaucratic chaining are listening differently. Many seem to be listening with their hearts and not merely their heads. There is a renewed concern for our young and a renewed interest in trying to form their ethical and moral outlook in a more respectful and human way.
The Board of Regents is taking the lead and developing new mandates in this regard. School districts need to be aggressively encouraged to implement these new directives. Thus, the Administration and School Board must fully embrace and practice this initiative. Every effort must be made to train all school personnel in every area to act differently and really integrate these basic principles into their own private and professional lives.
All Americans are attempting to reclaim their routines and their regular activities. Life for the most part is almost back to normal. That is a mixed blessing. The downside of this "back to normal" is that many adults are forgetting about the events of September 11, 2001.
Parents are again becoming too permissive. Schools are not holding to their conduct standards. People in public service are treating those in need and/or those in trouble less than respectfully.
In some circles, teenagers are holding their parents hostage by their reckless and insensitive behavior. BJ is a senior in high school from an intact family. He has a younger sister and an older brother.
In an effort to give their children everything, BJ's parents have spoiled them. The older son and younger daughter seem to understand. However, BJ is off the wall. He is constantly threatening and making all kinds of demands of his parents. When he is denied or it does not go his way, he goes ballistic. He acts out, breaks things and if he is really mad, he will punch holes in the walls of his upper middle class home.
When BJ is confronted, he sees nothing wrong with his behavior. He believes it is normal and that his parents are over-reactive. They have tried counseling and have made some strides, but he has effectively pitted his mother against his father.
After a terrible physical altercation, it was determined, based on a consultation with their mental health professional, that for the sake of everyone a respite was needed.
BJ was accepted into a residential respite care situation. The treatment goals and objective were very clear. Their rationale was explained in detail. Unfortunately, Mom, Dad and son were not on the same page from day one. Although objectively all heard what the plan was, each parent decided to adapt the plan in order to motivate their son to participate.
From day one, there were problems. BJ never wanted to participate. He did so under duress. Thus, he was never really open to treatment. His parent's individual intentions kept sabotaging his program.
The ultimate manipulation came when BJ threatened suicide if his parents did not take him home. They were informed that if he was suicidal or even threatened suicide, no questions asked, he would immediately be transported to the nearest hospital, even if the police had to be called. When he was confronted by staff where he was living, his tune totally changed. Again he accused his parents of overreacting, when in fact someone on staff had heard his academy award winning performance while on the phone. After that phone call, he was confronted. He vehemently denied saying anything about suicide.
BJ knew that if he continued to be non-compliant, he would be dismissed from treatment. He stayed out all night at a friend's house. That friend's parent never called BJ's parents to see if he had permission or if they even knew where he was staying.
So often parents want to be helpful, but in their helpfulness they are only interfering and making things worse.
Unfortunately, BJ's parents took BJ back. He complied to nothing. He did exactly what he wanted and basically came home on his terms.
However, maybe in all the chaos he learned something. Hopefully, his parents have realized their need to be a team in the positive parenting of their children.
As parents, we need to hold our children reasonably accountable. They shouldn't call the shots when it comes to school attendance, drug and alcohol use and curfews, especially if they are still in high school.
Parenting is one of the toughest careers one can embrace. However, one that can have tremendous rewards if we can endure and not let fear overwhelm us!