A couple of weeks ago my kids came home with a flier from school declaring September 30 as a day to wear gold in honor of September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. With families at our school affected by childhood cancer, I have no problem showing our support for them by wearing gold but at the end of the day, I was disappointed. I was disappointed by the missed teachable moment for our students to learn more about the disease and why it’s important to support those in our community especially since I know kids have a capacity to care beyond what most adults give them credit for.
I had hoped that the topic of childhood cancer would have been briefly mentioned at our bi-monthly all-school town meeting. It could have been done in a way that didn’t draw attention to the students with childhood cancer because the “who” isn’t relevant.
However, the “what” is relevant. If we’re asking kids to show support about something like childhood cancer, some simple age appropriate facts like what cancer is, how you get it, and how you treat it is important. It can be brought up in a way that isn’t scary even for the youngest ages but provides some understanding beyond wearing gold. The simple facts are a starting point to a bigger discussion that can occur at home but nothing was said about childhood cancer. We just got a flier.
Monday night my kids planned what to wear, picking out as many gold and yellow things they could find. The yellow shirts they wore as Minions for Halloween were laid out. My fifth grader, Emily, selected gold earrings, a red and gold ribbon barrette for her hair, and some gold bangles. I quietly wondered how many kids were raiding their closets for gold and yellow that evening or in the morning.
As we walked to school, I was disappointed to not see more kids wearing gold. I hoped that I was just seeing a small segment of the population. At pickup I asked how many kids were wearing gold hoping for an enthusiastic response.
“Ummmm…Maybe 20%,” said my third grade son. Emily concurred saying, “I don’t know why more kids didn’t care.”
While I appreciate that the flier can start a discussion, the simple fact that wearing gold to support classmates was lost on most kids and families, despite the reward of an ice cream party for the class with the highest percentage of participation. Perhaps if just a couple minutes had been spent mentioning childhood cancer at the bi-monthly all-school meeting that occurred on Monday, kids would have been empowered to show their support through the wearing of gold and might have gone home remembering. Maybe it would have sparked a dinner time conversation in other homes from curious kids wanting to know more about childhood cancer.
The lack of participation and missed opportunity to teach a school full of kids about childhood cancer made me feel guilty especially as I look to raise a new generation of change agents. I wished I had done more.
I could have asked our school administrators what they were doing beyond the wearing of gold to create awareness about childhood cancer beyond wearing gold. I could have sent gold ribbons or string bracelets to school with my kids to hand out to classmates. I could have published a resource-filled post about ways to talk to your kids about childhood cancer and great organizations like Alex’s Lemonade Stand that could have been shared with our school community as ways to get involved.
I would have done more. I could have asked. I should have gotten involved.
As Childhood Cancer Awareness Month ended and led right into October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m reminded that there’s more to advocacy than buying and wearing pink. While colors may show our support, it’s important to seize teachable moments when our kids ask questions about what they’re seeing or the things they hear us talking about. It’s important to involve them in the conversations about the causes that matter to us.
After all, kids have a capacity to care beyond what most adults give them credit for but they’ll never have a chance to care if we don’t give them the chance.