A lot of what we post on this blog informs parents of teens about threats to their child’s safety and security, or how to empower yourself or your teen to prevent harm. However, we tend to forget that in a global sense, our teens are doing very well. Sanitation, preventative health care, vaccination, and rapid treatment of diseases are available to most teens in the U.S. We should never ignore that within our own borders, some teens are faced with violence regularly; however, American teens are safe overall- much safer than, say, teens in Somalia or Afghanistan. Whatever you might think of our government structure, it is more or less intact. While food insecurity is common in our country, it’s very unusual for a teen to starve to death for lack of resources.
Our relative safety was driven home for me over the past week, which I spent at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of you have read about the flood of refugees coming to the U.S. from Central America, where gang violence has reached a fever pitch, and families are desperate to escape. I worked as a volunteer with many of these families, helping a local charity to provide food, shelter, and basic amenities to parents and their children. We provided a brief respite after release from immigration detention, before families took bus rides to their new homes across the U.S.
There were many teens and pre-teens crossing over, and I learned from them and their parents about the threats they faced. I met boys who had had guns put to their heads, and told they could join a gang or be shot. I met girls whose parents had fled with barely time to pack a bag, trying to protect their teen from being forced into sexual slavery. In some families, a parent was being threatened with death or a family member had already been murdered. Families were split as one parent took a child or children to safety, and one parent was left behind with the other children. Some of the mothers fleeing with infants and toddlers were teens themselves. For these families, their home country was incredibly dangerous, but so was the journey; people were robbed, extorted, and abducted and held for ransom coming through Mexico, not to mention the physical hazards they faced walking through the desert.
Working with these families, I reminded myself of how lucky and privileged I am, with my home and family and U.S. citizenship. I also considered how lucky many of the teens I know and work with are, to feel relatively safe from violence and want. I thought of how fortunate parents are, to say goodbye to their kid in the morning and take it for granted that they will see them later in the day. I thought of all the sacrifices parents make for their children in this country, and how wonderful it is that having to flee to a completely foreign place- or, at least, make the attempt- is very rarely one of them. Neither is being forced to leave a child without a mother or father for years, in order to save another.
If you are fortunate enough to have a teen who is safe, well-fed, educated, free to make life decisions, and has never had to witness violence or death, remind them of their blessings. This can take the form of watching a movie, reading a book, going online, and/or discussing the lives of people their age around the world. Who has it worse? Who has it better? What are teens their age doing in different countries (going to school, having children, fighting in a war?) How do we help those who need it, as individuals, as communities, and as a country?
Give your kid a big hug, and be thankful that they’re at home, within arms’ reach.