Thursday, November 29, 2012

Youth At Risk

“Human beings are hardwired with the impulse to share ideas and the desire to know we’ve been heard. It’s all a part of our need for community. “ Jake Bohm
Theologian, Martin Marty, of the University of Chicago, observes that as crucial as the family is to preserving civilization, it is the tribe rather than the nuclear family, which ensures cultural survival. It is not surprising that the word “tribe” has been associated with online groups of common interest as Web 2.0 became the tribal web for personalized learning. However, if we look to our youth and the current challenges that they face, remembering that although we, their parents, are continuing to preserve civilization, our children still look to their tribe for cultural survival. They want to belong.
Following a presentation last night put on by a dedicated school counsellor at my teens’ high school, I once again feel weighed down with what our teens are facing and so I turn first, to my pen…
I was thrilled to see the room overflowing with parents, teachers and even a couple of grandparents and I am warmed to know that our kids have so much support from every corner of their community, to walk with them through these current challenges.
The lecture, which ended with open and rich dialogue, covered the local situation surrounding alcohol and other drug use, and the current pressures that are before our teens.  Not only did we hear about the kinds of drugs that are readily available, but also there were samples provided to take note of. Parents were offered behavioural signs to look for and ways to open up conversations about possible pressures. In the case where parents feel that their child is misusing or abusing, potential avenues were provided. An R.C.M.P. officer was present and offered much in the way of experience and knowledge to the Addictions Counsellor’s lecture. Needless to say, it was an extraordinary evening.
But now what?
If it is indeed the tribe that ensures this cultural survival, and I have chosen to raise my children within this culture, I need to positively support them, and their friends, right here and now.  
In Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s book, Reclaiming Youth at Risk, he proposes that as people search to make meaning out of their existence, they need to mend some of the broken circles that have been created and suggests that the first step in doing so is ensuring that a person feels that she or he belongs. It is sad for me to think that these young people in our community, already have broken circles within their beings, and yet, I feel it. Taking all of this into consideration, how do we assist them responsibly when the way that they feel that they belong is by partaking in drinking and/or drugs?
As a teacher and a parent, I have always felt that one of my responsibilities is to help children see what their gifts and talents are and to help them find ways for them to express and utilize these gifts and talents for good in this world. With my own children, I have offered them opportunities to take part in humanitarian, musical and physical endeavours in order for them to grow in confidence and know what they are good at. Generally speaking I believe that most parents strive to do just this for their children, and even though my children know their strengths, have passion and commitment for their undertakings, it is their tribe that they want to belong with.
Of course.
Please join me in this discussion that has existed over time and will continue to be present, as we work together to protect, guide and support our teens, facing the challenges that they are facing, and to be with their friends, sharing ideas, creating good and being in community.
~ Ellyn

Monday, November 19, 2012

Noticing Goodness

This writing is overdue and yet essential, as I cannot seem to keep my thoughts from my time spent with an incredible group of teenagers. 

In September, my fifteen-year-old daughter phoned me to see if I could alter my schedule and accompany her and the rest of her classmates, on a Grade 10 camping trip. When a teenager asks an adult to be present with them, it is of utmost importance to do just that and so… without any hesitation, I cancelled two other engagements, packed a bag, put food together and joined them. 
I had a few reservations that did not involve camping in snow and cold, but I had heard that this particular group of teens had some strong characters that had been in a few predicaments. A couple of parents had warned me about a few specific kids, as well as situational details. What I discovered, however, contradicted all of these stories. There is no question that this group has some diverse and strong individuals, and… well… isn’t that a good thing?
I have always seen social misbehaviour in young children as a call out for action from a caring a positive adult, and wondered what could cause a teen to behave in a rude or violent manner, and I wondered how I would handle a teen, not my own, who called for my care and attention.
My initial anxiety was quashed immediately upon arriving at the adventure camp, when a young student walked off of the bus, with her arms spread up and out and her head looking towards the sun saying, “Everywhere I look, I see beauty.” It was then that I knew I needed to journal while I was with these young people.
Under the utmost capable supervision and mentorship of their Physical Education Coach, they unloaded the bus, set up tents and the rest of their camp, and headed off with two camp leaders to wall climb. I smiled warmly as they encouraged each other, including a few students who were unsure of taking part in the activity. This may sound like quite a rambling but here goes - One student commented on another student’s remark towards a fearful student, who did not want to try the climbing wall, reminding the initial student that said student was afraid of heights. “Oh ya.” was the remark from the first student. And the commenting was over, with no defending from the height fearful one. For those three days, the students continued to support and surround each other with acceptance and friendship and as a group of young people, I was in awe of how diverse each student was, and yet how supportive they were of each other. 

Their Phys. Ed. Coach is in tune with this age group and knew that they needed to come together as a collective at the start of the school year, learning that they indeed belong with each other, and she asked them to demonstrate their maturity and collective skills in order to work in harmony to become a valued community in and of themselves.
I am in admiration of each person on the camping trip, and will continue to offer my assistance as a supervisor for any future adventures together, remembering how important it is to notice goodness while honouring individualism.

~ Ellyn