A pre-born child’s right to life has been hotly debated for the last half-century, though in reality, the abortion controversy stretches back thousands of years.
But while many continue to inexplicably grapple with the most basic of all questions, it might be necessary to make clear children have another right, too – the right to grow up in peace, free from having their minds warped and their nerves frayed and wrought by anxieties not of their making.
“Kids have the highest level of anxiety I’ve ever seen,” says Susan Julien, a school counselor at Fall River Elementary School in Longmont, Colo. “Anxiety about basic safety and fear of what could happen.”
In a recent survey conducted by The New York Times of over 300 school counselors across the United States, 94% of those questioned reported seeing an increase in student stress.
Many cite the pandemic for the rise in student anxiety, but there is little question that other factors, such as family breakdown, addictions and political and social pressures, have contributed to the deterioration of children’s mental health as well.
In far too many cases, children are no longer allowed to be children.
We’ve all seen those lists comparing the problems in schools in the 1940s to today’s challenges in the classroom. Over the last 80 years, teachers and school administrators have gone from dealing with issues of chewing gum and running in the hallway to the scourge of drugs, the rise in teen suicide and the devastating impact of deadly violence on school grounds.
Today’s children have been figuratively and literally caught in the crosshairs and crossfire of a culture gone mad. It should sadden and madden every adult.
Truth be told, kids are overstressed because too many parents and other adults have foisted their own stresses and strains on them. In short, we share too much and make the mistake of thinking kids can carry more than they can – or should.
Writing in her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch writer and concentration camp survivor, tells the story of a pivotal conversation she once had with her own father:
Often times I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me, since anything I asked at home was promptly answered by the aunts. Once, I must have been 10 or 11, I asked father about a poem we had read at school the winter before. One line had described “a young men whose face was not shadowed by sex sin.” I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century sex was never discussed, even at home. So the line had stuck in my head. “Sex,” I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and “sin” made Tante (Aunt) Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine. And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sex sin?”
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little daughter to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied, wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions, for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.
As moms and dads, it’s our responsibility to carry many of the heavy loads of life for our young children. Just because it’s a 24/7 news culture, that doesn’t mean we have to share or make available every breaking headline or discuss the controversies of the day with our children. For example, I didn’t immediately discuss the news of last week’s tragedy in Texas with our 10 and 11-year-olds. It was hard enough for me to process, let alone burden and cloud the minds of two young boys about an evil man gunning down nineteen children their age.
It’s impossible to shield children from everything, nor should we even try. But I regularly see and hear of parents showing or allowing their own kids to consume content that’s well beyond their level of maturity.
That children are more anxious today than ever before is not just an indictment on today’s culture. It’s an indictment on those who make it – on politicians, school administrators and teachers, entertainers, athletes, and yes, even parents. Young people tend to mirror and model what they see in the adults before them.
There will be more than enough time for kids to grow into the challenges of adulthood. There is no need to rush it. Our children are not social experiments nor pawns on a chessboard. They’re treasures and gifts from God, and it’s our responsibility to fiercely protect their innocence. Beware to those who are exploiting our kids, bringing to mind the words of Jesus, who once warned: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2).
Photo from Shutterstock.