Another horrific school shooting occurs, this time in Parkland, Florida, and that familiar helpless feeling grips at our hearts. As we search for ways to make sure this never happens again, the good news is there is something we can do — and we can do it every day, wherever we live.
It’s pretty simple yet so impactful: Whether we have our own kids or not, we can make an effort to connect with the young people in our lives. Kids do better — much better — when they feel they are surrounded by caring adults.
To grow up healthier and happier, children and teens need to be able to reach out to adults they can go to when they’re afraid, confused, ashamed or happy and proud. They need to have adults in their lives who will acknowledge them and believe in them.
Parents, of course, are the first ones they can go to, and there are lucky kids who have two parents at home — or in the same town — who can give them attention. But non-parents are also critical.
This is where “the village” comes in. According to research in the field of positive youth development, young people who have three or more caring adults besides parents or guardians who support them feel happier and more hopeful, do better in school and are less likely to engage in drinking, smoking, drugs or violence.
Kids surrounded by caring adults know that when they stray, they will be held more accountable. When they don’t know their direction, they can turn to older people for advice. When they are in crisis, they have a safety net — especially if these adults are open to discussing tough questions and know how to listen without judging.
Somehow our society is missing the mark. According to the Search Institute, fewer than half of the young people in our nation, ages 11–18, have three or more non-parent adults in their lives.
So this is where we come in. If we care about the future of our children and want to shape it to be as happy and healthy as possible, we need to be there for our children — all our children.
How do we get started? Look at the young people you encounter in your daily life and say hi to them. If you see a kid regularly, get to know his or her name. Ask how they’re doing. Take a little time. You can encourage them in their interests, get to know their parents, offer them a job.
This is especially powerful if that young person is from a different background or ethnicity than you are, or seems to be rebelling or particularly shy. Your friendly connection can open doors and even worlds for them.
In Ventura County, there are many critical nonprofit organizations that provide kids with mentoring, jobs, education, sports, recreation, arts and other support. There are also numerous public and private schools.
Many of them operate leanly and could use more support. You can volunteer, you can donate, you can promote — and make a big difference to our local institutions.
This sounds like small stuff in the face of proliferating school shootings. But small acts do count, especially when magnified by an entire community.
Caryn Bosson was the founding executive director of the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation and is now executive eirector of C.R.E.W. — Concerned Resource & Environmental Workers, a youth employment organization based in Ojai.