My teaching career spans almost two decades. Over the past six years, however, I have noticed a growth in a typical situation I have begun to encounter through my interactions with high school children:
Participates in class.
However, in conversations at break or at lunch, this same student might say something like, ‘Miss, I am not ever going to post an image of myself on social media ever.’
‘Why?’ I would then ask. Their response, ‘Miss, I am ugly’, ‘Miss, people will laugh under my picture’ or ‘Miss, I can’t wait to be able to pay for cosmetic surgery’. In fact, I heard from a colleague that a student had tried to use her bursary to pay to get her ‘butt done!’
These are startling circumstances. Not only due to what it says about the erroneous perceptions many young people have of themselves but also the lengths they would go to adjust their appearance in order to be considered more ‘suitable.’ This is why I use opportunities in my lessons to talk about how they all have a unique design, and it makes the world much more interesting! Changing this design could create a dull monolith. To be honest, as these students grow older in their teenage years, they do not seem very convinced by my advice. This is why this needs to be a concern for every responsible adult who has any kind of interaction with young people.
As cases of mental health difficulties had skyrocketed during the pandemic, (especially as many students basically had full permission to be glued to their screens through most if not all the days), teachers need to be proactive in helping students to understand the importance of accepting themselves just as they are. But not just teachers. Parents too.
Recently, I read a children’s book targeted towards children as young as two years old which seems to capture what I have been trying to do in my classroom. It is entitled, ‘I wish I were a bird’, by Joy Roxborough. The writer carefully documents an experience of a little boy who wishes to be a bird initially. As the story progresses, he comes upon other creatures that he wished he was like and though each of these wishes were granted, he was still not satisfied until the very end when he began to wish he was back to his normal self. This is such a powerful way to teach young children from an early age that they are extremely valuable in their original states. Of course, it is natural for children to get up one day and say, they wish they were a banana, (or that they are in fact a banana!) but the important lesson should always be that they were created as precious, unique beings. Though the story is not particularly targeted at Christians, her reminder at the end would be very assuring for some as the story ends with the scripture in Psalm 139:14: ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’
Let us continue to pray for and affirm our children in these times.
Link to the book here.
Written by: Kimshaw Aiken