What do you think about an urban school district that, in the first three months of school, had 19 reports of weapons confiscated and 42 assaults by Kids. That’s awful, you say.
What a shame, you say. Yes it is. But that’s not the half of it: That was in kindergarten and first grade.
Claudia Wallace, writing in Time magazine, reported this from Philadelphia. It would be terrible if this were the case in only one city. It is not. According to some authorities, violence among kids is getting a younger and younger face. At first, it was high schools that had to have special schools for disruptive youngsters. Then it was the intermediate schools. Now it is elementary schools that have to have special schools for unmanageable kids. Something terrible is happening to our youngest kids.
I could give you all the statistics. I could give you examples of bad kids that would curl your hair. But I am not sure you would grasp the significance of what I am saying. Claudia Wallace cited a an example of a three year old who took a fork and stabbed another child in the forehead. At one school in Fort Worth, a youngster was asked to put a toy away. The kid began to scream. She was told to calm down, but then knocked over a desk, kicked it, dumped out the contents of all the drawers. And then things began to really get bad. Still shrieking, she stood up and began throwing books at her terrified classmate who had to be ushered to safety.
No one who is associated with the problem doubts for a moment that something really bad is going on. Why is it happening? What is causing this?
An experienced elementary school administrator in Miami, Karen Bentley, said something piercingly simple: “Kids aren’t getting enough lap time.”
Those words leaped off the page at me, because they pulled together a broad range of impressions about troubled youth. Kids aren’t getting enough lap time. One teacher says simply that a lack of socialization at home is responsible for the wild behavior. What we are getting is a kid whose body is six years old, but has the emotional response of a three year old. “Imagine a child with the terrible twos in a six year old body,” he said.
It is true that aggressive behavior in children is absolutely linked to the violence in movies and on television. But that is only a part of the story, and not the most important part at that. Children are dying for a simple lack of lap time. Their lives are being ruined because they grow up without learning how to love and be loved.
It isn’t just the time they are spending watching television. Television could be a perfect, wonderful medium and the kids would still have problems. It is not what they are getting that is killing them. It is what they are not getting: Lap time. Time spent with mother’s arms around them. Time spent playing with daddy on the floor. Time in which they experience love and learn how to love.
A few years ago, I watched a PBS special titled “The Lost Children of Rockdale County.” This was a true story about teenagers gathering on the strip in Conyers, GA. They made their way to an empty home or a motel for a night of fun. Then a syphilis outbreak was hardly noticed in this small southern town in the heart of the Bible Belt. A teenage boy first showed up at the County Public Health Department. It wasn’t long before other teenagers followed – some as young as 13 years old. As the health department followed through the maze of sexual contacts of each teenager, their chart broadened into a larger and larger circle. The number of kids who had been exposed to syphilis multiplied again and again.17 tested positive. Two hundred teenagers were exposed to syphilis and had to be treated.
These were not homeless or abused kids. They were a cross section of America and mainly from upper middle class families. The kids drove nice cars, even BMWs, and lived in large beautiful new homes.
This was bad enough, but as the story was told and kids were interviewed on camera, a tragic story unfolded. I could hardly believe that teens would discuss so openly on camera their feelings and their experiences. They were good kids from good families, but there was a common thread that ran through all the interviews. The kids were starving for attention and affection. Their upwardly mobile parents were often divorced, always busy, always neglecting the emotional needs of their children.
One girl I will never forget, spoke to the interviewer: “Sex sucks,” she said, “It’s just something for the guys.” She was expressing something reflected in interviews with other girls as well. She was the one who put it succinctly. Then why do the girls do it? That’s easy enough. They do it for the attention, for the touching, for the love. At least something they think is like love. These kids had managed to get into their teens before their lives started to come apart. Hearing their stories, I don’t know how they made it that far.
Have you ever noticed two people you really don’t like very much holding hands? Maybe putting their arm around each other and leaning affectionately on the shoulder. Have you ever been surprised to learn that someone you don’t even like is lovable to someone else, that there is something lovable in that person that has completely eluded you?
What is it about love? I suppose evolutionary theory would connect it to sex, but if there is one thing that was clear to me in watching the Lost Children of Rockdale County, it was this: love and sex are two entirely different things. Sex does not explain love. It may explain initial attraction or it may not, but it does not explain love.
Maybe the reason human beings can love is because we are made in the image of God. But unlike God, we only have a finite capacity for love. We can only love so many people – I mean really love them. This may explain Solomon who said he could never find a woman he could really love. He had 700 wives, princesses all, and 300 concubines. But later in life he would write: “Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.”
He couldn’t find one woman, because he tried to love a thousand. He could never love any one of his wives like Isaac loved Rebeccah, like Abraham loved Sarah. And poor David, great man that he was, never had that one woman he loved above all others, that one woman who alone could make him happy. Why? Perhaps because he had too many.
Now, we have kids being taught all about sex in school, but as far as I can tell, no one is teaching them about love? Even the admirable abstinence program isn’t enough. It does absolutely nothing about the deep emotional need in a child to be loved. Only love is enough.
But the real tragedy is that the schools cannot teach kids about love. That is the job of the mommas and the papas. And if they don’t do it at the earliest time, it may never be done at all. Genetic research has learned that the human genome has a switch that enables language learning and that it is open very early and for a very short time. A kid who is not exposed to spoken language when that window is open will always have a problem with languages.
Suppose there is a window for learning about love that is open very early, but not for very long. What would happen to a child who is not exposed to love within that window? To tell the truth, a lot of the social pathology we see right now is perfectly consistent with that possibility.
When I think about these poor kids throwing tantrums at age six that one might think is a bit much in a terrible two, my heart aches. I can only imagine the fear, the anger, the confusion that besets that little heart and mind. These kids are in pain. Deep, psychological pain. One reasons may be that they didn’t have a little physical pain administered with love early on in life. And because they never got enough lap time.
God only knows where some of these kids will wind up. In jail. On drugs. Dead. It gives new urgency to the bumper sticker, “Have you hugged your kid today?” Here is my paraphrase of what the great Apostle Paul had to say on the theme.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and don’t love my kid, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and don’t love my kid, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and don’t love my kid, it profits me nothing.
If I am going to love my kid, I am going to have to be patient, and kind; I can’t be resentful of the time I give my kid; I can’t exalt my myself , or be puffed up, or behave myself unseemly, before my kid. I can’t seek my own interests at his expense. If I am going to love my kid, I cannot be easily provoked, I have to believe the best I can’t take pleasure in lawless behavior. I have to take pleasure in the truth; If I am going to love my kid, I am going to have to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. I must never fail my kid: And now abides faith, hope, and loving my kid, these three; but the greatest of these is loving my kid.
The worst part about all this is that a child who cannot learn to love his family, may find himself unable to love God as well. John put it bluntly: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” In the same passage, he took note of another important truth. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
I hadn’t thought about it before, but there is a strong, adverse relationship between fear and love. The Lost Children of Rockdale County were afraid. They didn’t call it that, but it was in their faces, their voices. It wasn’t a fear of violence. It was a fear of being alone and unloved.
Rollo May in his book, “Love and Will,” said that when men lose the power to love, they substitute power over. I think that is what you see in uncontrollable kids. They are unable to love and they are trying to exert some kind of control over what happens to them. They can’t do this like an adult would do it, so they get their way by screaming and violent behavior.
I know what I am saying is frightening, and it puts a horrific burden on parents. But then, you already knew this down in your heart, didn’t you? You already knew that children need love like they need mother’s milk. But maybe you thought it was just automatic; that it required nothing special from you. Mothers love their kids and the kids just naturally love their parents. It doesn’t work that way. He who made us, made us so that we would need our mothers and our mothers would need us. And He made us to need fathers as we grow up, too.
When I listen to all the arguments about gay marriage, I can only shake my head and say how sorry I am that we can’t give marriage to gay couples. Oh, we can give them a piece of paper and certain legal rights that they could get anyway with a piece of paper they write themselves. But we can’t give a man the ability to bear a child and breast feed a baby. We can throw rice at a wedding at two gay guys, but it isn’t going to make it possible for them to create a new life between them, and that is what marriage is about.
What is really going wrong in our society is an absence of love, and it is starting with the kids. And the reason why the love is going away is because God is going away. When we start denying that we are created beings, made by God, when we declare that man is a product of natural laws and evolution, that what we call love is no more than sexual attraction, we end up denying the possibility of love.
It seems odd to me that the hippie generation was the most vocal about looking for love, but I never got any sense that they had any idea what they were talking about. Remember the song, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love”? Do you suppose anyone really understood what was involved in that? Did it cross anyone’s mind that love would sometimes require terrible sacrifices?
Not so long ago, a young couple I knew were getting a divorce and the grandmother was begging the girl to reconsider. “Think of your little boy,” she said. The response? “Oh, he’ll be alright.”
Maybe he will and maybe he won’t, but one thing is certain. His most fundamental ideas about love will be changed forever. His exposure to love in the family will be changed. The total love in his life will be diminished.
That divorce, like so many divorces, took place for purely selfish reasons. The marriage could have been saved. It might have taken extensive counseling, but it could have been saved. Now I recognize that some marriages can’t be saved. And I understand that sometimes a man or a woman has no choice, that the kids will be in greater danger by staying in an abusive situation than by leaving it. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule.
It is odd, but no one has spoken to one of the most important issues in the gay marriage debate. Why should society concern itself with marriage at all. Why have we ever had laws regulating marriage and divorce? Why can’t we just let people do what they are going to do and leave them alone? The answer is simple when you get the question right. To borrow a phrase from politics, “It’s the children, stupid.” The only reason the State has to bother with marriage law at all is to protect the children from the foolishness of their parents.
Our society is in a world of trouble. Without love, our society will finally come apart. Without God, we will always be without love. You may not be able to do much about society, but there is something you can do at home. Have you hugged your kid today?
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