One of the first things I learned as a parent is that kids are like sponges. They soak up everything around them—even the things we don’t want them to. When they’re young, it’s easier to limit all of the sources from which they pick things up. We can monitor what they watch, listen to, or hear us say.
As they grow, though, so does their world and circle of influence. We try to filter out what they absorb, to the best of our ability. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fail. This is even more difficult in our world of readily accessible and widely used technology.
A few months ago, there was an incident at my son’s Catholic high school that involved some students yelling racial and homophobic slurs at players on the opposing team during a basketball game.
How long the taunts went on before finally being put to a stop is a matter of whom you’re asking. Who was responsible is also up for debate. But there is no denying one thing, and that is that it happened.
In the aftermath, there were apologies and conversations about what took place, why it did, and how to use it as a teachable moment for all involved. There were rationalizations by some parents that this type of behavior has gone on forever and happens at all schools. Indeed it has. That doesn’t make it acceptable.
For the next few days, I found myself avoiding the topic by telling people, “Alex wasn’t at the game. ” Why? Did that somehow mean that I didn’t have to bring up the subject because his absence absolved him of any blame?
I wondered, if Alex had been at the game, what would he have done? Better yet, if I had been at the game, what would I have done? Would I have said something or waited for someone else to speak up? What would Alex have seen me do?
Look in the Mirror
I also reflected on where these kids must have learned such disregard for their fellow human beings. Sure, we can blame the media, social media, and any number of other influences. That’s easy. But what about us? What part do we play in these situations?
For instance, what about the mom who wrote derogatory statements in the comment section of an online news story about the incident? Her comments were not all that different from some of the things those young men said. What about the dad I watched verbally assault a teenage ref at his daughter’s grade school soccer game?
Many of us parents have probably uttered at some point or another, “Do as I say, not as I do. ” Maybe it’s time we change that up to encourage our kids to mimic what we say and do. It’s time that we adults take a long, hard look in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable for what we are teaching our kids through our actions.
On April 1, we will celebrate Easter. For the past 40 days, we have been working to recapture and reaffirm the basic message of our faith: that we are important enough that Jesus was willing to die for us. Let’s live up to that message.
The reality is that we are our kids’ greatest teachers. We need to speak up and let them know where we stand in situations like this. We need to call them out when we see or hear them doing or saying something we are not OK with. No more “kids being kids. ”
They may not look as if they’re listening, but they probably are. On the off chance that they are, it’s time for us to speak up. We can do better than this. We are better than this. Our kids are watching.
Click here for last month’s column, “Hey, Kids, It’s OK to Fail. “