You know the clichés about children being the future; they will be running the world one day. The children of today will be making decisions for us that will affect us in our retirement. They will be deciding if we should go to war, how taxes should be spent, what the country’s priorities will be. They will march toward equality for all or they won’t. They’ll act to prove that Black Lives Matter or they won’t. They will work to grant the LGBTQ+ community all the privileges and protections that heterosexuals enjoy or they won’t. They will determine whether they add loving or fearful energy into the world. There isn’t anything we can do about it—or is there?
I recently read an article (www.bit.ly/3fBzbho) about how having safe, supportive, nurturing relationships (SSNRs) can mitigate the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). This is where the Mental Freedom concept of responsibility and response-ability come in.
Do you know children in your family or elsewhere in your life who are having a tough time? Some children struggle with verbal, physical and sexual abuse; lack of predictability, safety and security; parental separation or divorce; domestic violence; drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness in the home; or a family member’s incarceration. These children are at high risk for risky behavior later in life.
Research has shown that children with safe, supportive, nurturing relationships will mitigate ACES later in life. This is just information. If you’re reading this, you will need to decide if, first, you believe it and, second, if you care about it. Some people will read it and think, that’s nice. They aren’t creating ACES in the lives of any children, so what does that have to do with them? Other people may decide that while they are not responsible for the plight of these children, that they are response-able. This means that people, namely you, can decide to respond to that information.
The beauty of response-ability is that you get to decide what that looks like. One response would be to stop reading now, having it be enough that you know nice people in the world who perhaps will make a difference in the life of a child. You may decide to donate some money to Big Brothers/Big Sister or another cause that works with children. Or you might decide that, instead of giving your money, you can give something even more valuable: your time. You can become that SSNR for a child who really needs one.
Should you decide to become that SSNR, there are some things to consider. Any time there is a supportive relationship, it is going to be give-and-take. Sometimes you share the things you like; other times, you investigate the things the child likes. You’ll want to explore the child’s basic needs and create a relationship where they can get all their needs met within the context of the relationship you create with them. Children have five basic needs: safety & security, connection, significance, freedom and joy. Incidentally, so do you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself: Does this child feel safe with me? Does this child know I care about them? Does this child know they are important to me and that I listen to what they say? Do I give this child choices and allow them as much independence as they can responsibly manage? Do we experience fun and learning together? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you have created a need-satisfying environment, indeed. If you are compelled to answer no on any, then you know where to place your energy and attention to strengthen your relationship even more.
There hasn’t been enough research into the mitigating effects of SSNRs with people of color, but an early study indicates, “When examined by race, the effectiveness of SSNRs for minority children comes into question. It is important to consider the systemic racism and inequities faced by Black children that can cause strains in their relationships. Because of this study, SSNRs may not be sufficient to provide the support for racial/ethnic minorities who have been exposed to ACEs. Addressing the systemic racism in education, employment opportunities, health care and housing to create equitable, tailored supports to addressing childhood trauma is important for the health and well-being of the children of color.”
Remember that you are not responsible for what is happening in that young person’s life, but you can be response-able. If the child you know that needs your help is Black, then by all means, reach out and work to become an SSNR for their life, but also decide what your response-ability is to make changes to systemic racism. You won’t be able to do it alone, but you can do something to help level the playing field, if it’s important to you.
Doing nothing is also a response. You are saying that helping to make the world a better place in the future isn’t important to you or it isn’t something you care about enough to do anything about it. All of us are response-able. What will your response be?