We are a nation at war. There is violence all around. Every day there is another story in the paper where someone has lost his or her life due to recklessness and/or violence.
So much of who are children become is thanks to the families that raise them and thanks to the role models they have growing up.
Children are not born violent. They are not born to hate. Those are behaviors and attitudes that they learn early on from their parents and from we the adult community.
Consistently, I hear parents complain about our young. They say they are out of control, that they lack respect for others. For some that is correct, but a more pointed question is: "What are we as adults doing to lead by example?"
How do we treat one another? What is our language like? Do we have manners in our dealings with others? Do we support violence and destructive decision-making overtly or by our silence?
When conflict erupts within our family and/or among our peers, how do we respond? Is our first response yelling and screaming? Do we create an environment of compassion and respect or one of indifference and guilt?
As parents and as adults, do we try to resolve our conflicts with our children and with other adults using calm conversation or do we use abrupt, abusive language?
What about patience? Or are we on that fast track to nowhere, willing to trample anyone that gets in our way?
Honesty! Do we tell the truth or do we tell half-truths? Are we forthright or manipulative depending on the circumstances? How can we expect our children to tell the truth when we lie? It can be as simple as writing a dishonest excuse note for JR's tardiness.
In the grand scheme of life, it is not the end of the world, but what kind of message are we giving JR? What values are being compromised or literally kicked to the curb?
As I travel the state doing conferences on teenagers, I find so many parents will express their beliefs that young people today are immoral. I totally disagree. I don't think kids today are immoral. I think they are amoral.
Immoral means you know right from wrong and you purposely do wrong. Amoral, on the other hand, suggests that you are not so sure about rightness and wrongness.
We live at a time when so much of our world lives in the gray. Life is not so black and white. However, there is a danger to minimizing some very important life principles.
No matter how the world has changed, no matter what your religion, ethnicity or socioeconomic circumstance is, certain things are wrong: like murder, rape, violence, cheating and dishonesty.
How and where do our children learn right from wrong? Who are their teachers? Parents are supposed to be the first teachers of their children. Unfortunately, in this age of both parents working to survive, some children are not being raised with a clear value system that is enforced and re-enforced by the child's extended family.
If our children are going to truly know and understand right from wrong, they must see us practice those moral principles in our own lives.
As adults, we need to have the moral compass that will compel us to stand up for justice and truth. It must also guide us to move beyond the violence of silence and take some hard positions as they relate to the upbringing of our children.
Parenting does not come with a manual. Most of us learn by doing. Some of us are effective; others struggle terribly, even to the point of giving up.
If our children are our national treasure, then no matter how challenging they may be and how painful the journey, we must not give up or lose hope.
For more than twenty-five years, I have seen miracles happen. I have been blessed to see broken kids healed, parents renewed and families restored and transformed.
These miracles and family transformations did not take place because of a magic pill, but rather because all of the adults involved refused to give up or give in. They were committed to the relentless task of never losing hope in their struggling young people.
There are families that continue to remind us that miracles do happen and that the power of our example does help to positively influence others lives.
In a world that seems so often consumed by narcissism, I met a family a few years ago that led by example. The Dad is a successful lawyer who constantly gives pro bono services to the community. Besides raising four adopted kids, he started a community basketball program that was founded on sportsmanship and every boy and girl playing, not just winning. His wife of twenty years is a hospice nurse who started a children's choir that celebrates that every child has a voice.
After hurricane Katrina, this family's four children ranging in age from seven to sixteen, decided on their own to set up a lemonade stand to raise money. After two weekend days in the blistering sun, these kids raised over four hundred dollars for hurricane relief.
When they were asked why they did this on their own, the seven year old who is missing his front teeth said it best, "because our parents are always helping people in need and we feel we should do the same, and because it's fun!"