816 North Opinion

Children will listen: ‘I’m gonna be like him, yeah, you know I’m gonna be like him’

Things in life come in threes. Famous people seem to die in threes. Plane crashes seem to come in threes, and if you stub your toe, within the day you will also bite the inside of your cheek and whack your funny bone.

Singularly each event may make us pause for a second, but as a group they make an impact that gives us the gift of a life-lesson.

It was an ordinary Tuesday, and I was giving myself the gift of a slow morning when three things happened in immediate succession:

The first thing

Someone sent me a link to a video named “Dear Daddy. It’s a letter from an unborn child to her father about the path her life will take. The message was about boys and how they talk, especially how they talk disparagingly about girls.

“But it was a joke!”

“But don’t take things so seriously.”

“But that’s just how boys talk.”

The video drew a very straight line from those comments and their accompanying buts to women being sexually assaulted. It was about ways her father, any boy, anyone could stop it at the source.

It was about how parents can influence their children by their words.

The second thing

I read a news story in The Washington Post about a seventh-grade boy who verbally attacked and threatened to kill another because the other boy was Muslim. It was hate speech in its most pure form out of the mouth of a middle-school child.

My mind drew a straight line from a 12-year-old boy to the places he could learn that this type of behavior; where this type of vicious talk and threats of violence was OK. Where could he overhear, or be told, this version of hate? I thought of people in his life who could be an example to either encourage this type of speech and behavior or to show that it’s wrong.

So very wrong.

I thought about how parents can influence their children by their words.

Right below the link to this article my friend J.D. made a comment. “Hate … lessons are absorbed pretty near automatically when conveyed by an authority figure.”

The third thing

When I read J.D.’s comment a single line from a song immediately began to play in my head on a repeating loop:

I’m gonna be like him, yeah

You know I’m gonna be like him.

I entered “Harry Chapin, Cat’s in the Cradle YouTube” into my search bar and hit enter to play the whole song about how a boy looks to his dad to teach him how to be a man, for better or for worse.

It’s a song about how parents can influence children by their words.

I say “parents” but I mean adults who love the children in their lives. If during this season of togetherness and love, you are trying to create holiday memories that will remain with even one specific child for their whole life, I mean you.

For better or worse, we influence children by words. Words spoken to them; words spoken around them; words that teach attitudes for better or for worse.

You can’t teach the kids in your influence not to hate if you are spewing it.

You can’t teach the kids in your influence not to hate if you are admiring those who spew it.

“But … I don’t write music, or newspaper articles or make videos with messages. How can I really make a difference?”

There is no but.

This is how: Be an example. It’s the greatest gift you can give your children and your children’s children.

Influence children by your words.

Susan Vollenweider and her entire family in Smithville wish you a very merry, joyful, cheery, loving and kind-to-one-another Christmas.