The things that hold our children back in life sometimes start long before birth.
Thomas loved coming to the community center. For him, like many others, it was a home away from home… a place where he could come and, for a while, be free of all the worries and dangers of living in a crime-ridden neighborhood. At the center, he didn’t have to worry about getting robbed, harassed by the police, or caught up in the crossfire of gangs in conflict. There he could play ping pong… shoot some hoops… and maybe have a few snacks. He could just be a kid.
Every day after school, Thomas came in to the community center gym for basketball workouts. He was strong and athletic and loved the game, but like many of the other kids, he was missing fundamental skills. As a senior in high school who had not played much organized basketball, workouts were more about pushing himself and having a release than chasing hoop dreams. The manager of the gym, who we will call Eddie, conducted organized drills and scrimmages to help the kids build work ethic, discipline, confidence, and self-control. Just as importantly, the workouts were good bait to keep kids coming in off the streets into a more positive environment where we would also slide in some scriptures, spiritual principles, and life lessons. Eddie needed as much help as he could get running the program, and I served as a volunteer to work with the kids two or three times per week.
Over time, Thomas and I developed a habit of working out with each other one-on-one as I tried to help him improve on some specific areas of his game. He was really responsive to my coaching and seemed to enjoy our time together. Realizing he was in his senior year, I began asking him about his plans for the future. “So what’s the plan after high school? What do you wanna do?” Thomas lined up for a free-throw and dribbled the ball. “Get a job I guess,” he replied in a serious tone. “What about college?” I asked. “Nah, man. I’m done with school.” Thomas took a shot, and I grabbed the rebound as I prepared my next question. “Why? Do you know how much less money you are going to make with only a high school diploma?” “It’s just not for me,” he stated emphatically. “I’ve got a friend who can get me a job with UPS as soon as I graduate making $8 an hour. I’m good.”
It was clear to me at that point that either Thomas had no idea of how little pay $8 an hour was for an adult, or I had no idea how much it was to him. Either way, we had a major disconnect on what the best path was for his future, and he was not budging at the moment. “Ok, we’ll talk about it,” I said, conceding temporarily.
A week or so later, I arrived at the center and noticed Thomas wasn’t in the gym. I looked around to be sure I wasn’t overlooking him, but still no sign of him anywhere. “Where’s Thomas?” I asked Eddie. Eddie took a break from looking through the mail and waived me into his office.
“So did you notice anything weird about Thomas’ clothes last week?” Eddie asked. I thought to myself for a moment, but came up with nothing. “No, I didn’t. Why do you ask?”
“Well I happened to notice over the last few days that Thomas had on the same shirt every day at workouts. I paid closer attention and realized it wasn’t just the same shirt, but the same outfit for like an entire week.” Eddie paused briefly, giving me just a moment to digest what he was telling me. My brain began thinking of an explanation to make sense of it all. Then he continued.
“Finally, I asked him why he was wearing the same clothes. Turns out a couple of weeks ago he walked home from the center to find his mom outside their building being evicted from their apartment. All of their stuff was in the yard and people were running up and stealing their belongings right in front of them… just grabbing their stuff and taking off running.” I put my face in my hands, irritated and saddened at the same time. “All of his clothes got stolen, so he had to wear the same outfit he had on when they got evicted every day since then. He hadn’t been to school because he was too embarrassed about wearing the same outfit. He is spending time with his mom today, so he won’t be in for workouts.”
I stood there stunned and speechless. I was disturbed by everything that happened to Thomas, but I was also angry at myself. How could I have been present with Thomas for several days without having any idea that something was wrong? I’m usually very intuitive, but somehow I totally missed it. I would have helped him had I simply known. Fortunately, Thomas and his family had somewhere to stay, and Eddie was able to take Thomas to the store to shop for some new clothes so he could return to school with some dignity. Even more of a blessing was the fact that, instead of retaliating or taking matters into his own hands to get clothes and money, Thomas had chosen to continue coming to the community center.
Silent Cries & Curses
Thomas is only one example of kids suffering in silence, in desperate need of help. I imagine he must have felt alone and scared, doing the best he could to navigate circumstances he didn’t create in a situation handed down to him from his parents, and likely even his grandparents. However, it is not always poor or underprivileged kids who inherit issues from their parents and whose cries go unheard. There is no shortage of stories from middle to upper class families about kids who are depressed, abused, addicted, or have contemplated or attempted suicide. Often these problems are tied to issues that have existed in the families for generations. Most of these kids just want to belong and feel valued and loved. They also need to know that they matter and their lives have purpose. Instead, they feel inadequate, alone, rejected, unloved, and incapable of coping with the challenges life is throwing at them. Often times, they adopt unhealthy coping strategies learned from watching their parents or peers.
The need to belong is natural, and has always created the pressure to live up to the expectations of family and friends. However, this pressure is amplified in the age of social media, with the desire for “likes” and compliments becoming so extreme it can seem like an addiction. This can lead kids to make horrible, sometimes life altering decisions that are unnecessary and avoidable if they have the help they need. All of these children deserve encouragement, support, and guidance before they become desperate, so they can be equipped to face these situations in advance. They need to be conditioned to act from a place of empowerment rather than powerlessness.
Let me be the first to admit that it is really tempting to sit in judgement of the parents whose kids are in desperate need of help. However, as a parent myself, I realize that things aren’t always black and white, especially in an era when things are rapidly changing and numerous new phenomena impact the lives of our children. As someone who personally knows the power of a parent’s love for a child, I truly believe that most (not all, but most) parents do the best they can to take care of their children’s needs. We must remember that, with the exception of a few, most adults are products of our environments and upbringings. Even if our experiences were negative, we typically repeat the past unless someone helps us break free. This repetition of negative habits and experiences is sometimes referred to as generational curses.
Reverse the Curse
I am generally not a fan of the term “generational curses” because the word “curse” suggests a lack of power over one’s situation. However, since the children of those who pass down negative patterns often unknowingly inherit the habits of their parents, I think the term does fit to a degree. The important thing to remember is that each of us can break the “curses” if we educate ourselves on how to obtain better results and then take action.
Too many families have cycles of depression, anxiety, addiction, verbal/physical/mental abuse, obesity, health issues, teenage pregnancy, poverty/financial bondage, broken homes, prejudice, victimhood… the list goes on and on. All the while, there are helpful resources available provided by those who have experienced success in preventing or healing these areas, but most schools don’t teach any of it. It takes much more than skills like math and reading to be successful and prosperous in life. Children need to develop a sense of identity so they know their strengths, their worth, and the values that will determine their decisions in life. They also need a vision for who they want to be and what they want to achieve, and the skills to set goals and execute a plan to achieve them. Such a foundation will give kids self-esteem, focus, meaning, and the confidence and resilience to endure adversity in life until they succeed.
The Future Begins Today
The ideal time to teach people the skills and strategies to break these cycles, live prosperous lives, and be their best selves is when they are young. The future rests in the hands of our children, who can continue passing down the keys to a better life. Yes, our educational system needs to be revamped, but until we succeed in pushing for that change we have to establish more comprehensive programs that provide children with access to this knowledge and training outside of the schools. This also means providing resources to parents who are doing the best they can to support their kids, but do not have all the information and skills they need or simply desire additional reinforcement of what they are teaching at home.
My mission in life is to make sure as many people as possible obtain the skills, knowledge, confidence, self-awareness, and personal development strategies to achieve their dreams and live full lives. A key part of my strategy for achieving this mission is to start with our youth. This is why our personal development company, Cra-Z-Dreams, offers life skills training to children ages 5 to 17, along with powerful and enlightening content for parents and children through the Cra-Z-Dreams Inspired blog.
The promise of today’s youth does not have to be wasted, and they do not have to repeat the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. We can and will make a difference. If you agree with this movement and want more for your kids, or yourself, subscribe to our blog and visit our website at www.cra-z-dreams.com to register for life skills programs that will help you create the best life possible for your family and the generations to come.
Join us as we work to give those who want prosperous lives access to everything they need to succeed!