The only thing surprising about seeing kids as leaders on the discussion of gun violence is that it is a surprise. Kids today have a different understanding than adults have of what is ‘normal’.
Kids in middle school have grown up with a black president and woman presidential nominee. When the election of 2016 resulted in having a white male president, he was the exception in the memory of most kids up to seventh graders. Current seniors have no memory of a time before the attacks on 9-11 making them the first generation since those alive during Pearl Harbor to have lived through an attack on our soil and to have grown up with a terrorism discussed on a near daily basis.
Elementary school aged kids have grown up understanding gay and lesbian couples can be legally married in this Country, in fact, due to the Supreme Country decision on June 26, 2016, the current second graders and younger will not remember a time when it was not legal. In 2013, Laverne Cox, an openly transgender woman, appeared as a cast member on “Orange Is the New Black” and then on the cover of Time Magazine for it’s May 29th, 2014 issue titled “The Transgender Tipping Point.” Two years later, Bruce Jenner was interviewed by Diane Sawyer announcing her transition to being a woman and just one year after that, the first openly transgender male, qualified for the United States Olympic Team. Current fourth graders will not remember a time before the words “transgender” and “gender identity” were part of our public discourse.
In the spring of 2013, Cheerios showed a commercial with an interracial family eating cereal. This commercial was met with a firestorm of responses including racism and boycotts. Cheerios responded by purchasing advertising time during the Super Bowl and launching another commercial. In March of 2014, Honeymaid followed suit, creating a commercial featuring gay and lesbian families and prompting vocal resistance from groups opposed to homosexuality. These commercials proved that reflecting our society in media is not only right but is also good business. These commercials also ensured students up to sixth grade are growing up in a time when it is nearly impossible to watch television, see a billboard, watch a movie and not see multiple family constellations, races, sexual orientations, genders, religions, and more.
The iPhone and other ‘smartphones’, seem new to most adults, however, it was only 11 years ago on June 29, 2007 the first iPhone was released and the means by which we communicate with each other, gather information, stay connected, entertain ourselves, and learn was forever changed. In the short time since the advent of the iPhone, handheld devices have been introduced in classrooms as well as virtually every public space and “Google it” has become a verb used to obtain any needed information. As with everything, there are positive and negative social implications to device usage, “Students no longer have to wait until Monday to find out if they were left out of a social event over the weekend, they can see it in real time” said, Andrea Lopes, clinical social worker. On the other hand kids who feel isolated by race, gender, sexual orientation, mental health status, and more can find peer groups in the digital world connecting them beyond their physical space.
In 2015, Walter Scott, a black man, was shot and killed by a police officer who described the shooting as self-defense. This shooting remained in the news cycle for a little while and then, like so many others, faded until a video of the incident appeared. In this video, Mr. Scott is seen running from the police officer and being shot in the back. That same year, Freddie Gray, a black man in Baltimore, was seen on video being put into a police paddy wagon and never seen alive again. His death prompted riots throughout Baltimore and police encounters with black men began to be videotaped as means of proving innocence. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter a videos such as the Facebook Live documentation of the death of Philando Castile ensured that we could no longer ‘look away’ from discriminatory actions.
In 2016, Access Hollywood released a tape of then, candidate Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitalia, launching the term “sexual assault” across breakfast tables around the Country. Just a few months later in January 2017, women from around the world marched together demanding equal rights. In 2006, Tarana Burke used #Metoo to raise awareness of sexual assault and abuse in society and in 2017 it gained more traction as a long list of politicians, celebrities, businessmen, and others were held accountable for sexually harassing and assaulting women. Children as young as second grade will not remember a time before “The Women’s March”, they see many more women running for office, and have watched men held accountable for their mistreatment of women.
On Valentine’s Day, 2018, Parkland joined many other kids in schools, neighborhoods, and community spaces with gun violence invading their childhood. Children enrolled in kindergarten will not remember a time before #Marchforourlives during which students were able to launch international movement through a single # and insist adults listening and acting.
Our children are growing up in a time when race is discussed in schools, privilege is examined, gender roles are changing, and transgender people are visible. They are moving toward adulthood with examples of all kinds of families in the media, when gay and lesbian couples can marry, and when they have seen adults repeatedly and without success attempt to address issues. There are many areas in which kids are ahead of adults, and we need to catch up, otherwise, we are asking kids to learn through ‘googling’ and we are left out of the conversation. This is a time for adults to find commonality with our kids, to ask how they talk about such things, how they would like to be listened to, and what is needed. Jada, a 10th grader, reflected the thoughts of many others, “I don’t need my parents or teachers to wait until they have it all figured out and to say it perfectly. I need them to listen, ask questions, and to admit when they make mistakes. It’s so much better when they do that then when they are just silent.” We need to learn from and with each other because there is still so much work to do and it needs to be done by adults and kids working together.