Our country's children fall into one of three groups: 1) kids, 2) the other kids, and 3) those kids.
The word "kids" typically brings to mind familiar children—sons, daughters, other family members, friends' children, neighbors, or other young people you know or notice for good reasons. Maybe they're bright, talented, or involved in worthwhile activities. Whatever the reason, these youngsters populate the paradigm of Group 1 that most people possess.
Turn the dial to the other extreme and Group 3 appears—children in trouble, committing crimes, fighting until someone is seriously injured, or skipping school. Alcohol and drug problems. Sex and vandalism. Our society notices them. They scare a lot of folks. Group 3 is easy to picture; although when people actually catch a glimpse of this group they quickly look away.
But what about Group 2: the other kids? The kids no one knows well. The kids no one notices. The kids no one bothers to picture. Somewhere between Groups 1 and 3 stand kids most people never see. No attention comes their way for good reasons or bad. As a principal in Fort Collins, Colorado, said, "A troubling, and growing, number of kids quietly slip through the cracks."
And that's a problem.
Assuming that you work in, volunteer for, or attend a church, you can feel certain that you intersect with some of these "other kids," so please keep reading.
Jason is a second-grader who faces a challenging life that he did not choose. His school recommended him for a mentor. The two met weekly. They played a timed reading game that Jason enjoyed—and he especially liked the affirmation he heard each week. He told his mentor that the reason for his enthusiasm toward this activity was simple: "No one has ever told me I'm good at anything."
Jason made extraordinary progress in his reading skills. He is one clear example of a simple truth: Touch a child's heart and you unlock his ability to learn and thrive.
Oh, there are folks that read such a statement and immediately offer comments that it's wrong to build into a child's self esteem because it does damage to kids and makes them narcissistic, or warn that encouraging a kid is just a feel-good approach and is the cause of the egos-on-steroids "generation me." Over-lavished, over-praised, over-coddled, over-protected—that's how some describe the results to expect from affirmation.
So which of those descriptors fits Jason? Or the millions of "other kids" in our country considered at-risk because they lack, among other necessities, a reliable and loving adult relationship?
Kids often remain just one affirming adult voice away from doing well.
Parents are the obvious first-choice source of affirmation for children. Moms and dads: Keep it up! I'll try to resist the urge to shamelessly promote my book " Words Kids Need to Hear," which addresses this essential task.
But in too many cases, like with Jason, the adults closest to a child are either too distracted by life, too busy to notice, or too wounded themselves to offer affirmation.
Mentors serve as a priceless supplement for children—and play a clear role in reaching the kids others miss. If you're a mentor to a child: Way to go! I'll try to resist the urge to shamelessly promote KIDS HOPE USA as a program for churches serious about reaching kids through mentors in your community. Today, hundreds of schools patiently wait for a church partner.
But I can't resist the opportunity to offer a challenge.
Think through your interactions with kids—you personally and your ministry. What if you decided that every child would hear affirmation, honest and real words that offer encouragement, every time they attend your church? Remember that some "other kids" likely attend your church, and with a doable amount of deliberate effort, those young lives can change for the better.