Commentary: This is the first time Gen Z is seeing what war looks like. Let’s help them


Commentary: This is the first time Gen Z is seeing what war looks like. Let’s help them

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This is the first time members of Generation Z are seeing what war really looks like. They are the demographic cohort ranging in age from 10 to 25. Thanks to social media and the 24-hour news cycle, they can witness the war between Ukraine and Russia. They are seeing the unfortunate consequences of war. There have been reports that schools and nursing facilities have been bombed. Finding out about the displacement of millions, along with the killing of women, children and the elderly can be overwhelming for our youths.

In education, we often talk about “teachable moments.” These are the times that educators use to go outside of the curriculum and impart knowledge to students that can have a lifelong impact on their lives.

As the war in Ukraine continues to unfold, what are some of those “teachable moments” that we should all use to help our youths cope? How do we make them better people and more productive citizens? How do we help develop their sense of right and wrong as they see this war take place?

Beyond the obvious fact that war is destructive and represents the worst kind of conflict that nations can have, it’s important to let the future generation know that when individuals don’t talk and fail to find common ground, this is the result. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”

We have the opportunity to teach our youths that violence can oftentimes be prevented when we agree to communicate and seek mutual understanding. As we battle our own war of sorts on the streets, across the nation, where shootings and carjackings have become commonplace, perhaps the unfortunate war in Ukraine can help teach our youths that violence, when possible, should be rejected at all costs.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, 2021 was America’s deadliest year in the past two decades. Well over 12,000 people were killed through gun violence last year. During that same year, carjackings across the country hit record numbers. New York City recorded 500 carjackings compared with 328 in 2020. Philadelphia had more than 700 carjackings in 2021 compared with just over 400 in 2020. Chicago has the unfortunate title of being the city with the most carjackings. More than 1,800 were reported to have occurred in Chicago in 2021. We all hope 2022 will see less crime.

Unfortunately, gun violence and carjackings don’t tell the whole story. Our youths are suffering from high rates of depression and suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020 there was a 24% increase in emergency room mental health visits by children 5 to 11 years old. During that same year, 1 in 4 young adults had contemplated suicide the month before the survey.

It’s clear that far too many of our youths are in desperate need of help. What conversations should we have? How much information is too much? How much is not enough? The fact is that our youths already see and know too much about violence. They see it on their cellphones, their laptops and any other technology devices they own. The video games they play depict violence in a positive light. The only difference is that when they have seen enough, they can turn it off. Unfortunately, in the real world, there is no off switch or way to push “restart.”

I am more than certain that the best approach is to be upfront. We should make it clear that violence is devastating and can have a deleterious impact on families for generations to come. The families that are being killed and displaced in Ukraine are not the only victims; other generations are also affected. Men and women at the optimal years of procreation are being killed, which results in fewer children being born. And children who would have grown up to have families of their own are being killed. Money and other assets that they would have left to their heirs have been destroyed. This is similar to what happens because of shootings and killings on the streets of our nation. The fate and futures of children are being cut short. Real wealth is being affected because adults are being killed at their most productive earning years.

Yes, there is so much our youths can learn from what is happening in Ukraine. The question is: Who is telling the story? The unfortunate and devastating impact it is having on Ukrainians needs to be told.

Our challenge is to get in front of the story and be clear and transparent with our youths by telling them that violence, at any level, is not the answer. We are better served by talking out our differences and doing our best to find peaceful resolutions. Perhaps our youths will listen and lead a movement to reject violence, put down the guns and even their fists, and use their words to find common ground.

Generation Z one day will lead the world. What they learn from us now will leave a lasting impression on them as they become adults, parents, world leaders and politicians. Let’s give them advice that demonstrates that everyone matters and should always be valued.

Jerald McNair is a school administrator in South Holland School District 151 in Illinois.

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