With the holidays now upon us, many thoughts turn to our children. What do they want for Christmas? Can we find a babysitter? How to maintain some semblance of schedule? And yes, our hearts go out to those reflected in the stories of homeless families, child abuse victims, hungry children and the charities that do their best to fill holiday stockings of the needy.
It is good and proper that we are mindful of these children, especially at this time of year.
Yet, these are not the children of tender years I want to talk about. We naturally think of young children at times of sadness and times of joy. We rarely think about our teenagers with the same poignancy. Indeed, we don’t lack for emotion when they frustrate us with their limited thinking or decision-making. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we proudly refer to them during times of political campaigns as our Next Generation.
It is exactly because they are our future that these children are the face of very tender years. These children are the ones most likely to be neglected; but they don’t want to be with adults anyway, do they? These children are the victims of careless, harsh, judgmental comments from family and teachers; fortunately, they never listen, do they? These children report being bullied by peers; that’s OK ” it helps toughen them up for the real world. These children languish in group homes or on the street because there are never enough foster parents willing to take in teens; it’s hard enough to find foster homes for cute, young children.
Yes, that is what our behaviors as individual families and as communities say about our teens. Yes, it is unfair and unacceptable. Is our Central Oklahoma community really unaware that suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens? Do we not know that 120 teenage youth enrolled in the Oklahoma City Public Schools system are identified by the Department of Human Services as “living independently,” meaning without any adult in their home, according to DHS officials. And that is just Oklahoma City, not Oklahoma County or surrounding counties.
What happens to the youth ages 12 to 18 whose wishes hang on Angel Trees? Do we realize that the occasional negative attribute (“stupid,” “worthless,” “lazy,” “hopeless”) ascribed to our teens from our own frustration frequently overshadows word of praise and positive recognition?
Let us not forget during this holiday season, nor throughout the year, that our future generation is as hungry for our patience and guidance as any child, that our needy teens’ stockings hang just as empty as any child’s, that every child wants a family to call their own no matter how old that child may be. While harsher words and actions of older children often replace the tears and cuddliness of younger children, the internal hurts and feelings of hopelessness often run deeper and are even more familiar to our teens.
Do not mistake the wisdom of Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim as a plea for only the youngest among us. It is indeed a plea for all among us, regardless of age or ethnicity: “God bless us, everyone!”
Boyd, a former state legislator and 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is owner and chief executive officer of Policy and Performance Consultants Inc.