I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the messages that children receive from the world around them. In our primary prevention work, we attempt to stop or counteract the negative messaging that bombards young people every day.
Although I am not a parent, I have children in my life that I care deeply for. At times, I find myself overwhelmed with feelings of panic about the negative messages that my nieces and nephews see and hear in their daily lives. Even “harmless” TV shows and commercials are fraught with problematic messaging.
Case in point: My niece loves to draw pictures for me. I proudly display these pictures on my refrigerator and in my work cubicle. As a 5 year old budding artist, this thrills her to no end. So, when I saw her this weekend, she gave me another picture she had drawn. Before I could exclaim my joy over this work of art, she quickly said, “I’m sorry that the girl has purple hair – it’s the only crayon I could find.” And it hit me: all of the sudden, this child who at one time didn’t know her colors and used any and every crayon she could get her hands on has suddenly realized that there are “appropriate” colors for certain things – like hair color. I quickly let her know that the drawing was beautiful and that the purple hair was awesome. But it made me think: when and where did she pick up that message? I could blame a parent, a teacher, or one of her fellow kindergarteners. But the truth is that these messages come from everywhere.
So, why is this even important? It’s just a crayon color, right? Maybe today it is the color of someone’s hair. But down the road it could be the color of someone’s skin, or the shape of their body, or what they wear. One need only look at some of the recent cases  of bullying and suicide to know that these ideas and behaviors start early. If these ideas and behaviors are not interrupted, they snowball and can lead to abuse.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The majority of the time, I hear about positive things that the kids in my life experience. These budding little preventionists have also shared stories with me about how they’ve intervened in bullying situations and how they are learning the importance of respect for all living things, and that everyone has value. As adults, we have an important role in guiding and nurturing the children in our lives. For me, I’m starting with a lesson about the color of hair. We’ll see where it goes from there. But the point is, I’ll keep listening to them and providing that guidance and feedback. I’m aiming to be the best Auntie Preventionista I can be!