It’s a new year and a new opportunity to dream again! This year I’m excited about adding a youth council to my character education program. I look forward to seeing what great things will become of this merging of young and mature minds. I think that it is so important to allow youth to have a voice. I’ve learned so many things from my own children, like how to keep things simple when I want to make a “mountain out of a molehill,” or that I really don’t understand “everything” that they are experiencing these days in school, even though I’ve “been there, done that”. Sure, I agree, for the most part, that there is nothing new under the sun, but surely 21st century youth are experiencing some issues that those of us over 35 never imagined we’d have to deal with during our youth.
Take for example the terms, cyberbullying, road rage, knock-out, Internet, cell phones, website, tweets, Twitter, Facebook and any other 21st century term you can think of. They were unheard of when I was growing up over 35 years ago. We may have seen a form of road rage, and yes, cell phones and computers have been around for much longer than someone younger than 20 may realize, but most of these terms, issues and products did not exist, at least in their present form, 30 years ago. Youth are dealing with the age of technology, knowledge and major life issues that require consistent adult guidance, advocacy and wisdom as well as their own voice to express how these issues affect them. After all, they will be leading our world in a few years, so it is imperative for adults to listen to what they have to say and gain some insight into their perspective of life.
My hope is that the youth council will not only represent the Maximizing Character program by exhibiting good character in their respective homes and communities, but I hope that they will become global leaders. One way that I believe that adults can give youth an opportunity to express themselves and develop into productive citizens is through role play, service learning, mentoring opportunities, designing and implementing projects and through cultural arts. Through these modes of expression, youth can develop their communication skills, increase their capacity to lead others and develop social responsibility. 21st century youth also have an opportunity to make sense of their current environments, the world and establish a worldview.
I’m rooting for our youth and expecting great things from my group of character leaders as well as those children and young adults that we hope to impact as we promote excellence in character. I look forward to shining our light as we travel from school to school, community event to community event and even as we connect to children and families around the world in order to support an important cause or create positive change in areas affected by poverty, disease or injustices. Keep checking in with us this year to see what the Maximizing Character youth group is up to. Here’s to 2014! Elevation, Manifestation and Multiplication!
Developing character can be a challenging process. It is not always easy to do the right thing when everyone else is “doing it”. As I mentioned last month, since I have started the Maximizing Character youth program, my own integrity has been challenged. I have been confronted relationally, professionally, spiritually, financially and physically to consistently do the right thing. Don’t worry. It’s a good thing. I’m up for the challenge.
There are times when we all want to fit in and not necessarily stand up or stand out. In most cases, we want to blend in with the crowd at the sporting event by wearing casual apparel as opposed to a tuxedo or ball gown. Ok, that wasn’t a good example, but hopefully you get the point. Kids, for example, want to fit in by wearing the latest designer clothes and shoes or they don’t want to be the snitch that tells the school administrator what they know about the latest school crime. For me, starting a program focusing on people’s character has been a challenge in and of itself. I’m challenging myself and others to do a self-evaluation of the behaviors and motives that cause us to do what we do. This is not always a popular topic in society. People actually want to hear about the latest “dirt”, scandal, celebrity gossip or breakup. Stories that involve a lack of character seem to hold the spotlight more than the good news that peers through the rubbish.
As I watch the news and observe the lack of character in politics, business and entertainment as well as the increase in violent acts—increased bullying, children killing their peers and adults, acts of suicide as a result of being bullied, youth acting out dangerous and even life-threatening scenes from the latest video games or movies, I have to ask myself, what can I do to help reduce the occurrence of these events? Obviously I can’t help everyone, but I can create positive change in my sphere of influence. In the past few months I’ve learned that it is fulfilling to be able to take a stand for what I believe in. I believe it takes a resolute mind and steadfast determination to do what is right, walking in integrity.
As I encourage myself, I also encourage my readers to continue to do the right thing. Don’t quit. Don’t forfeit the intrinsic benefits that come with possessing good character. Commit to developing a better you, not only the external you that we as a society tend to focus on, but also the internal you, the essence of who you are and want to be in order to make a positive impact in the world. It starts with one. Got character?
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. During the course of this month I hope that readers will take this opportunity to participate in the discussion about this nationwide concern. All across the nation schools, organizations and the media are tackling this topic in hopes of making people aware of its prevalence and to provide strategies to reduce the occurrence of bullying behaviors. Although the issue of bullying has become a national issue in recent years, bullying is not a new issue. It has been going on since the beginning of time. However, in this day and age, bullying has evolved into a form of violence that not only plagues youth and young adults, but it occurs among adults in the workplace and other arenas. Additionally, with the evolution of technological advances, cyber bullying has emerged, causing a whirlwind of problems such as suicide, low self-esteem among youth and other forms of violence.
The issue of bullying is one that I know all too well. Not only have I known individuals and groups who have been affected by this issue, but I was a victim of bullying many years ago. My twin sister and I dealt with bullying during the 70’s and 80’s. Although times have changed and we did not have to experience cyber bullying, the effects were still the same. Hurt, fear, lack of confidence and low self-esteem are just some of the feelings that come to mind when I think about being bullied.
My sister and I did not deserve the pushing, shoving, name-calling, lies and rumors that took place in an effort to hurt us or provoke fights. I’ll never understand what went on in the minds of the elementary and middle school aged students who bullied us. I remember asking the loving adults in my life why this was happening and what had we done to deserve the hateful behaviors and comments. We simply wanted to make friends and go to and from school safely.
I’m sure that there are children (and adults) out there today who shared some of the same feelings I did thirty years ago. Last year one of my sons experienced bullying for the first time as he entered middle school. He recalled being fearful of going to the bus stop and to ride the bus. There were all sorts of “initiations” for the new comers and it scared him. Initially I had no idea that there was a problem. The school year got off to a good start. However as we entered the third or fourth week of school, he began to have asthma attacks and spent several days home from school. For the next month or so he would ask to stay home, citing that his stomach hurt or that he was not feeling well. One day it occurred to me that something was wrong. I had gone through a similar situation with my oldest son and it wasn’t until I opened up the lines of communication and asked questions that I was able to find out what was really going on.
My son revealed that kids were hitting others at the bus stop and on the bus. He, and the kids his age, were being told to switch seats and were often being “removed” if they did not get up. My son shared that one of his biggest fears was coming home after school, especially on Fridays, deemed “Freshman Fridays”. He shared that the older kids would chase them off of the bus and hit or beat them up as part of the “initiations”. I was horrified and it broke my heart to know that my son was experiencing this.
My son’s account of what was going on, mainly in my neighborhood at the bus stop, brought back the memories of my own experiences with bullying. I remembered that my mother advocated for my sister and me when we were bullied. She went so far as to go to the police regarding one incident. I truly believe that because of her actions, support, encouragement and positive affirmations, my sister and I are women who are now thriving in life. We have been able to move on, learn from the experiences and help others. That being said, I went straight to the school. We were blessed to receive the prompt support and response of my son’s school administration. When my son experienced another potential incident, this time during school, his sixth grade assistant principle stepped in again to squash the situation.
I hope that the bullying awareness and prevention goes beyond the month of October. In the meantime, I urge you to support the various activities, events and discussions that may take place in your community or online. Most of all, I encourage you to stand up for those who are experiencing bullying or may be potentially targeted.