“The Wall”… those words have been ‘ear catching’ since 2016 and have often been the focus of many arguments. But don’t worry… this post is certainly not political and we won’t be discussing (nor arguing) whether you are for “the wall” in the political sense or against it.
When I talk about “walls” in this post, it’s about the walls we have built in our own lives, or walls that we’ve ‘hit’ or experienced ourselves.
“Kids can be mean,” we’ve heard this phrase several times before and from our own adolescent and teen years, we know it’s true. Kids can and will tease each other, push each other around, call names, etc. For whatever reason, there seems to always be one kid in every classroom that gets signaled out to be “the kid” who experiences being the social outcast. Walls are built to keep the outcast out. The walls can be made from anything… if someone is “different” a wall can be built to keep them out. “Different” can be anything: skin color, economic status, new student, foreign student, the list goes on… anything that is different from the core group. Walls can be built by every single one of us, whether it be in school, work, church, your neighborhood or your community. Take a moment and think about it. What kind of walls do you have in your life?
As I think back to my childhood, I remember a girl in my class who was often the outcast not because of her skin color, but I think more because of the way that she talked. Kids sometimes had a hard time understanding her. She “talked different.” Then there was also the way that she reacted when a bee would fly in an open window, she was extremely terrified of bees, and often kids would laugh because she would just about scream if a bee flew in the room. Years later, the same girl and I keep in touch on Facebook. In my adult life, I have now learned that her “different speech” is merely because she has a Louisiana accent (I believe her mom is from that area) and that her reaction to bees was due to the fact that she is highly allergic to bees. I don’t remember ANY teacher explaining this to the class. Perhaps if that fact had been shared, then classmates wouldn’t have built walls to exclude her? Perhaps she wouldn’t have been excluded for her differences, but instead, empathy would have been put in place of the walls. I don’t know for certain… but I wonder.
In my 6th grade year, I experienced walls that kept me from being part of groups. When the school year began, I had been placed in a split class with 7th graders… and when I say “split”, it was not split equally. I was one of only five 6th graders in a class of 25-30 kids. All of my other classmates were 7th graders. The 7th graders had a wall built that didn’t allow 6th graders or at least certainly not me. My fellow 6th grade classmates? They had a wall, too. It seemed I was “different” in some way… did I dress funny? Was it obvious that I wasn’t rich? Why they built their walls, I’m still not sure to this day, but I hated the fact that I was on the outside and it hurt me deeply/emotionally. All of my closest friends were placed in another class. I rarely got to see them and hang out with them unless it was some activity we planned outside of school. I recall it as my worst year ever… socially.
I was made fun of (something our modern day culture has now labeled “bullying” these days). I was ignored. I was shunned. I was picked last for teams. I was also the subject of silly and dumb adolescent pranks. I remember classmates speaking in “pig latin” and I couldn’t comprehend this “coded language” fast enough to decipher what they were saying, yet I could make out my name, which was spoken often with giggles and I knew they were talking about me and laughing at me for not being able to quickly comprehend what they were saying. I tried to break into this “clique” but the walls were too thick and too steep and no one was about to let me in or be included in their circle.
I remember a joke being played on me and it really hurt my feelings and then some classmates started to apologize to me. I thought perhaps if I forgave the ones I saw as “popular” then perhaps I would be accepted and hoped that would break the wall… but it didn’t. One girl was almost relentless in begging for forgiveness, and as it turned out, when I finally DID forgive her, we became the best of friends. Her wall fell down.
Reflection and Future
I look back on that experience now and can actually be thankful for it. Was it “fun”? Of course not! Did I learn something from it? YES! I learned what it was like to go from semi-popular to un-popular. I learned forgiveness is key to friendship. I learned to care more about others around me and how lonely it be when you feel you have no one to be your friend.
Now, as a parent, I remember these experiences of walls and try to help my kids not create them and hope that they don’t experience them. However, inevitably, in a culture we’ve grown up in teaching us how to sort and compartmentalize by color/shape/etc. it’s bound to happen that groups with similarities will form and others will be “sorted out” and walls formed. Kind of like placing all the red colored beads in one compartment and the blue ones in another.
Parenting is never easy. As kids enter into the adolescent stage there is a whole new frontier that they and their parents must explore. Boo-boos are no longer kissed away and are usually much bigger than the knee scrapes. Adolescence brings hurt of the heart and emotions. Social interactions play a huge part in the life of a pre-teen and teen.
One thing that kids of all ages seem to thrive on is consistency. As a parent, you must teach them (as best you can) that change can be a challenge, but also an adventure into a new and exciting thing. That lesson alone can be a hard one to teach, because they love things consistent. They feel secure in knowing you will be home every day and/or night… you will have something for them to eat… you will have clothes for them to wear.
Helping Kids Navigate Walls
Each year of school brings a slightly new change… a change in teachers… a change in classrooms… a change in friends. And those minimal changes seem to be okay, but then if you put them in a classroom where they are absent from the majority of their friends (as happened with me) and/or you are placed on a ball team of all practically all new (and better) players. It can be very detrimental to the spirit and mind if there are walls that can’t be broken down.
Have you ever felt like you needed a “mental health” day away from your job? Most of you likely have. And likely you have called in for a day off or just taken a vacation day to NOT have to deal with “work drama”.
I think that kids who experience teasing and bullying and drama need a “mental health day” from time to time, too. And while they have plenty of school holidays and teacher workdays, those days aren’t always going to fall when needed for the health of the mind. A parent or guardian can discuss issues with a teacher and he or she will often offer a solution, but teachers only have so much authority. Their hands are tied in so many areas, especially that of stern discipline and therefore issues often continue all through the school year with no real resolve: unruly classrooms with high noise levels making it hard for other students to concentrate, bullying, lack of structure to control the classroom. I’ve even heard of one teacher who cries a lot of afternoons (IN the classroom) because her students simply won’t listen and behave.
When a child does well academically, despite the obstacles, the mental health of the student is likely overlooked. After all, the child’s score on the SOL usually wants to define how well the teacher is doing, right? For a student who truly WANTS to learn, those obstacles can be quite stressful and hence the need for a “mental health day”.
So, sometimes a kid simply needs a day in which he or she can skip school, go do something fun with a responsible parent or role model and take a break from the drama of school life. While “skipping school” doesn’t sound “responsible”, doesn’t it stand to reason that teaching your child to take a break when needed to care for themselves is a GOOD thing? Again, in adult life, the need for a “mental health day” is often achieved by giving the necessary notice for a vacation day… or calling in for a “sick” day. This lesson isn’t in avoiding responsibilities, it’s in taking care of yourself – mentally! With teen suicide on the rise and other violence like school shootings, I tend to think teaching kids to take a break from the school drama with a “mental health/skip day” would be a positive thing to do.
Why are there “bullies”? Why do kids pick on other kids? Because something (hair/skin/eyes/height/weight/clothes) is different. Remember, we’ve been taught to separate things into groups that have similarities. You see, the problem is that when you place a blue bead in with the red… someone will instinctively want to pull it out and put it back in the “blue compartment” even if it’s the ONLY blue bead. So when you place a student in a classroom of all new people… if that student doesn’t find some similarities with the other students in order to fit in… the student is going to encounter a WALL. When you place a kid on a ball team with all new players (who’ve already played together for years) they aren’t going to readily be inclusive. Even if there ARE some similarities… such as the “new player” has been playing for years also. In that situation, it’s more like a red lego trying to integrate with the red beads. They are all red, yes…. but that one is still DIFFERENT and the similar ones will want to separate the odd one out… with a wall. (And similar to bullying in the classroom, not nice stuff happens on ball teams, too, like sunflower seeds being spit on “the red lego”.)
And depending on the coaches, the same might be said. If coaches and players have already had a long history together and have established relationships, it’s hard for a new player to come on the team and have the exact same interest shown to them. The new player is treated as if it’s the very first year ever, rather than taking the time to get to know the position they’ve played in the past or to consider the previous years of experience. The new player will undoubtedly experience A Wall.
Are You Building Walls?
Sometimes we build walls without even knowing it. Like I said, it seems to be ingrained in us since we were children to separate and divide by differences. The media capitalizes on this fact today with their news stories… constantly seeking out things to purposely divide us for their own profit and gain if it gets them more social presence and more views.
It’s up to us, then, to OVERCOME some of these learned tendencies. It’s up to us to break down the walls and offer love and respect to those that are outside them. It’s up to us to become the “sorter ball”… you know, the ball that toddlers will play with in which there are all kinds of shapes and in order to get them inside the ball you have to find the correct slot to fit the shape into? Yeah, the key here is that every shape is different, but they can ALL be put inside the ball, together.
How do we do that? I have no easy answer. I’m sure I’ve inadvertently built walls all through my life as well. We’re all likely guilty of it. We need to try to be aware of when we are building them and try to stop.
Recently I’ve been reading a book called Prayer Circles and in one section it talks about how the Israelites circled the wall at Jericho seven times as instructed by the Lord their God and then with a shout the wall fell down. So whether you are experiencing a wall yourself, or building one intentionally or un-intentionally, perhaps it might be good for you to pray that the walls come down for you… no matter which side of it you are on.
Be a role model to kids, teach them to be aware of walls they may build unintentionally as they sort through their social lives and group people together and instinctively try to sort someone who is “different” out. Remind them of the love of Jesus Christ that calls us to love one another.
That might not be what you wanted to hear when you first began reading this post and went on this journey with me. Prayer has been breaking down walls for centuries. Prayer can bring miracles. Remember when you pray to the one holy God Almighty that He hears you. He is not the Genie in a Bottle that you only talk to when you want something for yourself (or even others), but He is a God who likes to have conversations with you. If you are truly sincere about wanting help with your own walls, I’m certain He can help you with that… you only need to ask and then be obedient to His calling and direction. Ask for help. Stop building walls and help break down the ones you have built.