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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What's wrong with kids these days?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The young Brazil resident sat quietly staring at his shoes while I waited for a response to my question. It wasn't a tough one.

"What's wrong?"

A teenager -- like so many who roam the city streets -- with nothing to do, nowhere to go and often no one who cares, this young man is considered one of the "strange kids." Swathed often in black clothes, he's smart, compassionate and has an incredible sense of humor.

However, all people see is a "bad kid."

Authority, well, he has issues with adults because so many have failed him. Family members, neighbors, people at school and society in general have ignored him for a long time.

Although he doesn't look for it, trouble often finds him because of his choice of attire.

With a notorious pride, he wears the label of "bad kid" although those who tattooed it on his forehead are afraid to look inward at the problems facing their own family and friends.

Defiance and acting like a tough guy hides a private and personal pain from anyone who doesn't want to look carefully at him.

Detachment is his coping mechanism. He cracks jokes and acts as if nothing really bothers him or matters.

Admitting he doesn't understand hope, he does dream. If you look deeply into his eyes, you will see he wants family, friends and, most of all, a future in the community.

Rules and respect are a concept he is trying to learn, but consequences he fully understands.

He's what is known as a "bed-hopper," someone who stays over at a different friend's house each night. No one checks on his whereabouts for days, although he readily admits to wishing someone would.

It was a rocky start when we first met, but we have become friends over the past few years.

The gruff street kid who didn't like to be touched, now hugs me and asks how my day was when he sees me. I am honored that he trusts me and calls me "mom."

I could see his lips tremble slightly as his eyes rose to look into mine. Although it was a safe environment and knew he could say anything without fear of repercussions, I could tell he was struggling with the reply.

Leaving his childhood on the streets a few years ago, he's 16 going on 40 and quickly losing hope.

"I tried to kill myself yesterday," he mumbled at first and then repeated the words louder as he pushed up long shirt sleeves to show recent cuts on his arm.

A pain struck my heart as much as if my own son or daughter spoke the words.

"There's just too much. I don't know how my life has gotten so bad," he said to me. "It seems like everything I do is wrong."

What do you say to comfort someone who feels this way at 16?

Do I tell him the unabridged truth?

That choosing to remain blissfully ignorant to his needs and/or his problems, some members of his family and a portion of society have failed to nurture him to become the best person possible.

That failure to provide a good home when he was a small child has potentially started his trek down a road filled with poverty and maybe involvement in crime.

That the label "bad kid" can't be erased because it requires forgiveness, understanding and a helping hand from a community that refuses to deal with the problem to get to the truth and the solution.

Or do I coddle him? Tell him that everything will be OK, knowing full well that it probably won't be.

After a moment of silence, I told him the only thing I could say to my young friend.

"I love you," I said as a patted his hand. "I'm glad you didn't hurt yourself worse."

As hard as it was, we both cried while talking about the hard truths of life.

"I know your life has been so hard. It's not supposed to be. God won't give you more than you can handle," I said. "It's these hurdles, these struggles that you will overcome and that will make you a better person."

My words appeared to provide some peace, but he said he still felt like a failure.

"Everyone fails, don't let them tell you different," I said as I pulled him into my arms for a hug. "There are scars in this life because you're going to fall down a lot. God expects you to fall down every once-in-a-while. But when you finally get back up and succeed, you wear those scars with pride."

With tears in his eyes, he nodded at me as the word "but" slipped from his lips.

"There are no 'buts or what ifs,' anymore," I said while moving long hair out of his face. "You got friends. Matter of fact, you got more than that, you have family. You might not be able to choose who your family is, but we have chosen you to be in our family. You're not alone anymore."

There are a lot of children -- for whatever reason -- left to the mercy of a life on the streets around the world, and there are some here in Brazil. After a late night at work, I see them walking around when I drive home. I hug my children a little tighter when I get home.

Yes, there are a number of "mischief makers" and juvenile delinquents out there roaming around. But I can't help but wonder why they are out there.

When asked, my young friend tells me that they all know each other and the reasons why they are on the streets.

He tells me the stories vary from those who don't realize they have a good home and think it's cool to run the streets and get into trouble, to those who are homeless, their parents can't afford to take care of them or they don't know where their parents are, to some kids whose parents tell them to "get lost" for a few days while they plan to enjoy a alcohol or drug stupor.

Many of these children don't know God, or they have chosen to not believe because the question of "Why would God let this happen to me?" has no answer for them.

I don't know how it happened, but children have been devalued. Apparently raising strong, happy, responsible and loving children is not a priority for parents in some households.

I know if you ask any teenager how life is at home, it's likely they will say something like, "My parents are terrible. They embarrass me and they are always in my business. I can't do anything right. Man, I can't wait to get out of there and away from them!" as a response.

Whether these feelings are bad/good, right/wrong or fair/unjust, they are all perceived differently during the various stages of life.

Trust me, leave it to a teenager to turn something a parent does or says in their child's best interest into a bad thing. The same things they complain about now could become treasured memories in the future.

I just don't know with what some of the children are experiencing today will become treasured memories in the future.