Recently I had a conversation with a group of 15-17 year old boys. These students have made some missteps in life. The curriculum I am teaching seeks to assist them in advancing in their moral reasoning. We have candid discussions around various topics like violence, supporting family and other aspects of life that affect them everyday.
This particular conversation was related to stealing. Yes, taking other people’s items without permission. Several of the students were in the class for that very infraction. I appreciated their honesty and sharing their insight with me as it provided inspiration for these thoughts. They all summed up the reason for their thieving ways in one telling sentence: “We saw all the oldheads (the adults) in our family and on our block taking what they wanted.” (They also provided additional thoughts like if they had money they wouldn’t have to steal but I will deal with that in a separate post). I reflected on their statements and thought they were absolutely right. They were doing what they were taught.
Imagine if these young people had examples of positivity, education and ethical behavior I am sure that they would be in a different position today. As adults, we are training children not just with our words but our actions. The old adage “do as I say not as I do” is just not true. Children do what they see and it is important that we give them visuals of upstanding, repeat-worthy behavior. They are watching and they are processing everything!
As we live among young people whether it is our own or otherwise we have to be mindful that they are soaking in everything we say and do. Some would say it is not fair to be placed in the position of a role model when they are not seeking it. They often say “I’m not their parent.” To that I say SO WHAT. In today’s times so many children are being raised in homes with one adult or others who are not their parents. By their very nature they are looking and hunger for direction on how to conduct themselves. Children do not make the distinction that they should only learn from their parents or those who are charged with raising them. Instead they latch on to any adult figure who makes an impression- good, bad or otherwise. What enters the gateways of their eyes (whether it is intended by the adults or not) often becomes apart of their ethos. It is unfortunate that the older they get the harder it is to alter their value system and outlook on life.
If we want children and youth to succeed we must set forth examples of success. We want to perpetuate the kind of success that will create cycles of compassion, achievement and ultimately positive impact on the world one community at a time. Although we don’t ask to be role models or sign up to be mentors, just know that sometimes these roles are imposed upon us by the most innocent and needy people in the world- children.