Though I didn’t have words to articulate it at the time, looking back I realize these could be filed under “Injustices of Youth”:
In 6th grade:
The boy I liked gave me a letter another girl had given him. It was laced with profane words and (sexual) actions I had never heard of; horrified, I turned it in to my teacher, who in turn, took it to the principal.
All three of us were summoned to the office (the boy, the letter writer, and me) and punishments were doled out: we were all required to write “lines” (Remember those? Do they do that anymore in school??) and my sentence was “I will not read letters not addressed to me.” Five hundred times.
I don’t remember their sentences, but his was 750 times and hers was 1,000. I was the only one who completed it and turned it in. I don’t think my dad was called and because I was led to believe I had done something wrong, I didn’t tell him; I was punished, after all.
In 7th grade:
I had braces, and for a season I was supposed to wear headgear 23/7. The kind with straps across the back of your head and metal bars protruding from your mouth; torture devices–emotionally and physically, for a teenage girl.
To minimize the Nerd Factor, I wore a bandana to cover part of it. When I arrived at Social Studies that first day, Mrs. Lumley promptly instructed me to remove the bandana because our school had a “No Hats” policy. Mortified, I complied, but I also took off my headgear. Quite possibly my first Worst Hair Day ever and I remember feeling embarrassed and UGLY all day long.
I’m sure many of you have similar stories with different circumstances. The bottom line was that an adult/authority figure exerted control over you, for which you were not in a position to argue, defend, or disobey.
And it wasn’t fair…it truly wasn’t fair!
I believe it’s crucial for a child’s maturation to suffer the consequences of poor decisions.
If he makes a poor choice, he’ll learn best when he has to pay a price for bad judgment – not if you bail him out every time. Otherwise, you’ll create an unattractive victim mentality. That will not serve him now or through adulthood, or society in general ever!
But sometimes, your child needs you to be his advocate, when you see a true injustice and he’s not in a position to speak for himself.
This looks different for a teenager than it does for a younger child, and it should be a rare exception.
This isn’t about complaining about a bad grade your child likely earned, or lobbying a coach for more playing time because you think your kid “deserves” it; remember, she might be gaining something far more valuable sitting on the bench.
However, if you believe a call to action is warranted, how might you be an advocate if you see your daughter becoming demoralized or defeated from minimal playtime or bad grades you truly believe are too low given the work invested?
Have a reasonable, confidential conversation with the coach or teacher, asking her to encourage your child by recognizing her commitment to practice, good attitude, and support of the team, or obvious time spent in research. Encourage the coach/teacher, too, because hers is a challenging, underpaid job.
Photo by Zdenko Zivkovic
A time when I felt compelled to be an advocate was when my oldest was on a mission trip. My daughter sponsored a child and part of the attraction of choosing this trip was to meet the little girl she sponsored.
Once there, she was told unless she came up with an additional $200-300, she wouldn’t be able to meet her. I won’t go into the rest of that story, but I was just as upset as she was.
I began a dialogue with trip sponsors and discovered a series of missteps and confusion on their end, ending with my daughter meeting her sponsored girl. Though I’ll never be sure, had I not begun that respectful dialogue, I think that several trip attendees would not have gotten to meet their kids.
One word of caution:
Judiciously discern the circumstances that warrant advocacy for your children. One of the first things children learn to say is “That’s not fair!” because they have a strong sense of entitlement and WANT.
You should ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by intervening, or what will happen if you don’t. Proceed only after you determine the far-reaching ramifications of your action (versus inaction).
A few suggestions to keep in mind:
• “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”
Your child can only share his perspective of the situation; your own observations will still tell only part of the story. The more complete your understanding of the situation, the better you’re able to speak for your child.
• Honestly evaluate if the circumstances are a consequence of your child’s choices.
• Exercise restraint.
Where our children are involved, it’s a challenge to remain neutral, calm, and unemotional. Best approaches use a combination of reason, respect, and diplomacy, not attacking or pointing fingers (remember, three point back!).
• Do not involve your child.
Seeking to reconcile this type of child injustice should be a quiet and confidential exchange between you and the offender. It’s not a time to win people to your side or rally for support; it’s an attempt to support your child, remedy wrongs, address warranted concerns.
Do personal experiences of your own “childhood injustices” come to mind? Do you have suggestions to add to my list above? Have there been instances when you should have intervened and didn’t, or chose to step in and shouldn’t have? How can childhood injustices be helpful even if they don’t turn out like you hope?