We have had a very challenging few weeks at OPRF High School. The hate graffiti has highlighted larger issues within the school and community — issues that are not new, but now stand front and center. We are not the only community or school dealing with issues of inclusion and discrimination. Trinity high school in River Forest has now had an incident of hate speech in their school. As citizens of Oak Park and River Forest, we will shape with our actions or inaction what we stand for. And our children are watching us. What we do says more about who we are than what we say.
As a psychologist and a mother of an OPRF student, I want to address the parents. These events of the last few weeks have been scary for everyone. Swastikas and hate speech always are. Our job, as parents and educators is to support the kids to take control of the narrative — I mean decide that, while this hatefulness happened and in the larger world happens at this moment, they can control the story, what these events will mean to them, how they will respond emotionally and with their boots on the ground.
They are smart, they know bad things happen and will happen in life. But the ability to be resilient and creative in response to hatefulness is something you learn. We come with different strengths and challenges, but we can all learn to be more resilient. Our job now is to help our young people learn resilience. It begins with empowerment. Give them voice. Listen to their needs and, yes, their demands. Many of our students are very good at speaking up. We adults aren’t always as good at listening. But it seems to be happening more now.
Stay connected to your student by listening to them. Hold off on voicing your opinion or providing answers. We want to give them our answers instead of trusting that they will find their own. Give them an outlet for their feelings. Ask them if they need something from you (to advocate for them, come to a meeting, or just be there for them). If you feel you need to say something or do something, based on what they shared with you, let them know that. And don’t overwhelm them with your emotional response. They need room to figure out what they feel.
The march and rally with OPRF faculty member Anthony Clark was very positive. It was a positive response to negative actions. The kids need to be included in finding solutions and feel a sense of purpose by taking steps now in their lives, to help create changes for a safer and fairer environment for themselves.
I’m so proud of our students. They have been courageous and incredibly articulate when they are given a chance to speak. The questions they asked in the Wednesday night community meeting a few weeks ago were intelligent and provocative.
Resilience begins with empowerment, listening to their perspective and respecting that, though young, they have valuable and even essential parts to play in real life problem-solving. As parents, we work hard to prepare our kids for the future. Building personal skills and competence now in the face of adversity is one of the most important life skills they will develop.
Christine Popowits Look, PhD, is an Oak Park resident.