February is Love Month. High schools celebrate with Heart Weeks and Heart Week dances. While good intentioned, they don’t always turn out very loving. A recent situation at a local high school exemplifies what I mean. A few kids were left out of the planning phase for the dance and therefore not included. These kids really wanted to attend. And they wanted to attend with this particular group. I don’t have any idea how it turned out, but unless they made room for those kids, I’m opposed to the outcome. And the reason for my opinion is simple: we are in a youth mental health crisis in our country, in our state, and in our community. Why wouldn’t we make every conceivable effort to be inclusive? Recent Hennepin County survey data shows that 24.6% of high school juniors have seriously considered taking their own lives at some point. That’s a startling number. My mind jumps to whether or not one of those 24.6% is among those being left out of that dance group.
For that reason, I can’t think of a good enough reason for those kids not being included. Not enough room in your car? Awesome. Get another car and divide people differently. You don’t really like the people that want to join? Awesome. This will give you an opportunity to get to know them better and like them more. Someone else in your group doesn’t want those people to join your group? Awesome. Definitely split away from that part of the group because no one needs to be around someone who purposefully excludes others. You don’t have room in your dinner reservations? Awesome. Split part of the group off and go somewhere else. Can’t get a reservation at your favorite place then? Awesome. Try somewhere else. How about if you ask the “left out kids” where they want to eat. It’s the least you can do since they were left out to begin with. Can’t make anything work out that includes everyone? Awesome. Skip the dance entirely! It’s just a dance — it’s not your wedding. By opening your heart a little and being a little less self-absorbed, you could make a difference in someone’s life.
Young people are so easily influenced by negativity, lies and hate. They need to know the world is safe for them. They need to know the world is good and that good is capable of winning. They need to know that they are accepted and that they have connected with others. And they need to know the joy of helping someone out. The feeling you get when you do something for someone else — when you make an effort to include someone. How it feels when your primary goal is to be kind and inclusive instead of mean and exclusive. As parents, it should be our goal to help our kids be empathetic, compassionate and inclusive. It wouldn’t hurt to stick our noses into their plans just a little bit more in order to guide them into making kind and inclusive choices. Because if they learn these traits growing up, they will grow into more compassionate, honest and inclusive adults. And I know we could all use more of those people in the world.
Fifteen Februarys ago, when Ana was 4 years old, she had a physical therapy appointment. Dr. Katie came out to greet us and she said, “Hi Ana”, to which Ana responded, “I like you, Dr. Katie”. Dr. Katie said, “I like you, too, Ana”. And Ana replied, “I don’t like mean people.” Oh Ana. I don’t like mean people either, sweet girl.
Wishing everyone a Happy Love Month. A month full of love, kindness and inclusivity for all. A month completely void of mean people.