One of the most exhilarating and unifying moments of the 20th century was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. During several hot July days in 1969, people all over the world were glued to a television or radio anxiously following the astronauts’ progress to outer space and awaiting Commander Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped onto the moon. Willing to put aside global tensions for a bit, we became citizens of the world as we watched Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, gleeful and childlike, bouncing and driving along the dusty and hilly and mysterious lunar surface.
As parents and educators, our focus is to protect children, to shield them from distress and to create environments that foster their growth and development. While we usually manage to navigate the day-to-day situations and stressors that children face without too much difficulty, we are often at loss when faced with having to talk to children about death. How much do we tell them? Will they be able to understand? Will they get too upset? What if they show no emotion? When do we seek outside support?
As parents and educators, we seek to put our teen’s behaviors, emotions and difficulties into mutually exclusive categories that we can readily understand and, by extension, start the processing of fixing. This assuages our own anxieties about being ineffective in our children’s lives and, replaces that inner parental angst with controllable variables in the form of actionable items and measurable gains. If your teen comes home expressing that nothing in math class is making sense, parents may act in the straightforward response of contacting the teacher or enlisting the help of a tutor, should one not already exist. This is an “easy one” as parenting goes, in that the direction is clear and there is a reasonable expectation that this intervention will fix or at least mitigate the problem.
While sitting on the beach last summer, I watched my 5-year-old goddaughter walk over to a little girl she did not know, introduce herself, and ask her to play. Two girls, who never met, becoming fast friends. They would spend the day building sandcastles, sharing snacks, and running in and out of the ocean – not thinking twice about the waves that towered over them. Most likely this is a common story experienced by many beach-goers. Insert a middle school girl into this picture, and the story line completely changes. The middle school girl will never make that initial introduction and will not run in and out of the ocean carefree. Why? Because all those initiatives we easily took when we were young, involve taking a risk. Girls’ capacity to take risks diminishes as they grow older starting around their middle school years.