All Kids Are Our Kids

We are saddened by the sudden passing of Peter Benson, President of the Search Institute and author of All Kids Are Our Kids. If you heard his speech at the 46th IMCL Conference in Santa Fe, or have read All Kids Are Our Kids, you will know that Peter was a passionate advocate for rebuilding community and an articulate exponent of why this task is so essential.

Peter understood how essential a strong community fabric is for raising children, and how we have failed them. “Instead of embedding our children in webs of sustained adult relationships, we segregate them from the wisdom and experience of adults, raising them in neighborhoods, institutions, and communities where few know their names. Instead of celebrating them as gifts of energy, passion, and hope, we view them with suspicion in public places and places of commerce and deny them meaningful roles in community and civic life.”

He was unflinching in his analysis of the problem: “During the first eighteen years of life, it is common for a young person not to know well any adults outside of her or his own family, to be a stranger in one’s neighborhood, to be ignored or unwelcome in public places (especially when with other youth), to be the object of well-intentioned programs without any say in their focus or design, to lack safe places to spend time, to be excluded from the community’s deliberations, and to spend considerable time each day without an adult presence.”

“In some ways”, he observed, “our society is now actually organized to abruptly terminate young people’s relationships with adults. Teachers are present in a child’s life for a year or less; coaches and leaders of after-school programs come and go; and a high level of family mobility severs ties with neighbors. Indeed, it may be getting harder and harder to guarantee that all kids are connected to sustainable relationships. What was once natural in communities is something we now need to become intentional about.”

Nevertheless, he insisted that “Sustained relationships with unrelated adults are at the heart of a healthy community for youth”. Indeed, he suggests that “it may well be that adult relationships – particularly for teenagers – generate more asset-building energy than any other developmental resource…  cultures have always passed on the best of human wisdom: through wisdom modeled, articulated, practiced, and discussed by adults with children around them. It is learning through engagement with responsible adults that nurtures value development and requires intergenerational community.”

His message is clear to all of us concerned with making our cities more healthy and livable: “If there were only one thing we could do to alter the course of socialization for American youth, it would be to reconstruct our towns and cities as intergenerational communities.” With compact urban fabric, mixed use, mixed-income housing, walkable streets and public plazas we have the tools to achieve this. It is up to us to carry his mission forward.