21 June 2021
The conversation at he dinner table suddenly got serious. What was being discussed as theory, became real. "Dunedin is such a safe place to bring children up", said the father of a ten year old boy We don't have p down there yet.
Oh how innocent parents are I thought, and mentioned that uni students there had every chance of finding as much to lead them astray as any other place, and what's more they probably could be quite innovative in some of their more undesirable diversions. I Certainly I've had to write enough references for those before the local magistrates.
But my remarks were safe, it was distant, it was other people's children.
Then another guest said quietly. "I've lived in Dunedin for the last 26 years. We are a happy loving family with everything going for us, but when my daughter was 15 everything went to pieces. She had been taught, told and was an intelligent young woman but it didn't make any difference. She was influenced by a criminal mind and the attraction was greater than her upbringing. There didn't seem to be anything we could do except be there. There were six youth suicides in that age group. Bullying by texting was really bad. She and her mates really got into dangerous situations and of course they knew everything. We sought help, counselling, we've been to hell and back. Dunedin is not a safe place any more than anywhere else. "
What are things like now? "Well now she's 19 she is older and wiser and a lovely daughter, she's found herself.. Her friends now drop in to have a coffee and talk. I'm grateful my daughter didn't get pregnant or end up on drugs but many of her friends did. But the real thing that has happened is we became more aware and now those young girls are building good relationships, some with their own children, and know that that is important. I can see that the cycle is being broken."
She had the total attention of her dinner companions. "I did a study on why this sort of thing happens and found many of them were basically chucked out of home when they were 14 or 15 and left to survive. There is nothing for them to do if they drop out of school. There was help for the younger ones and help for the over 17's but nothing for this lot. The Police have set up a safety net for that "in limbo" age group and things have improved dramatically in Dunedin. I never thought that we would be a family that had to deal with this !".
The shocked look on the faces of the others as they tried to work out how they, with younger children, would not have this problem showed that the message of one of their own had impact.
No one can have a formula which guarantees safety for one's children. We all live at risk. When we push the problems off as belonging to someone else. we are really hoping that our families will be different. When we blame particular factors, which certainly can make things harder for children, we are denying our part in the social conditions and environment in which children and young people grow.
The church has often not helped. One of the most arrogant statements in the past have been those who have said that "the family who prays together stays together", with the implication for those who have children who are more adventurous, more curious, lonely, defiant, with devious friend and influences or just foolishly trusting have somehow missed the spiritual boat and God has left them.
My dinner guest had real faith. That Easter faith which hopes that the child who is loved, even at the most unlovable times will eventually come to their senses and that new life is possible. And now her faith and love for other young people has fruit so others do not fall into the same traps.
I remember that there's an old story about a parent who waits and never gives up on the son who was lost….. ………….Thank God that we can always have hope and may we have the faith to believe in our young people, children and grandchildren, neighbours and friends and have the courage to speak out and to create an environment which will not tolerate anything which destroys the chance for all our children to grow well, to be able to respect others and to know God's love is for them. This is part of our task as those who follow Jesus. The Easter message is there to give hope for all of us, at any age and stage that there is always the possibility, sometimes even through tragic circumstances, of new beginnings.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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