A tough thing happened for my kids recently. One of my son’s teachers from last year, someone he admired and learned a lot from, was arrested during the school day for sexual misconduct that had taken place five years prior.
By the time this edition of The Cross Timbers Gazette comes out the story will be old news, however, this column will still be relevant because it’s not about whether this teacher should have been arrested during the school day or if teachers should have yearly background checks, or even whether or not this man is guilty.
This is a story about listening.
Let me set the stage for you by saying every night before bed my son (16), daughter (14) and myself sit in her bedroom and they talk about their day or the things that are on their minds. In my 30-plus years of parenting I’ve learned that my kids, especially as teenagers, tend to come alive right about the time I’m ready to go brain dead. The soft glow of the salt lamp and the hum of the ceiling fan somehow magically allows them to give voice to the experience they’ve had called public high school.
Honestly, it is one of my favorite times of the day!
Between the two kids they’d heard a lot and had seen a lot on social media about the allegations against this teacher. They’d overheard and listened to many of their classmates’ points of view, read a lot of community members comments on local Facebook groups…all of this weighing on their minds before trying to shut down for the night, only to get up 8 hours later and do the same thing all over again.
It was so important that I listen to their experience because the discussion was much deeper than what it appeared to be on the surface. Teenagers ponder deeply. My son wasn’t spending time weighing in about whether or not the teacher he thought he knew had actually molested a 13-year-old boy or if there might be other victims. Maddux was questioning whether or not, if the teacher is guilty of this crime, it negates all of the good things the man has done his life. “If someone does something bad is it fair or just to overlook the good things they have done?”
Those were his words.
In other words, do we label and categorize a person into a space that says everything he’s ever done is null and void because he did an awful thing?
Please don’t mistake this question to mean either my son or I would condone a man molesting a child, this is not the case.
Maddux was struggling because he was disillusioned. For the first time in his life he was grappling with the fact that someone he believed in and had experienced as trustworthy may not be.
On a deeper level, Maddux was questioning whether or not he could trust himself to judge another person’s character.
Yes, it was deep.
And so, as a concerned parent I listened, not to give him the “right” answer but to understand his thought process and his perspective. Holding space for your teenager’s big feelings is sometimes the only thing we can do.
The last point Maddux made was that he was amazed to learn how quick people are to judge others…he realized how he’d done the same thing at times. I thought it was great that he’d connected the dots and it was a terrific reminder to me to work on compassion and nonjudgment as well.
Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying, “I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings, ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else, we’re helping make our world a better, safer place.” Mr. Rogers was a wise man who was way ahead of his time, and certainly someone we can all take a lesson from today.