Researchers say that we learn to smile from very early on. And they say that babies’ smiles may not be as innocent as they look – it is their way of forming bonds with those who smile back at them, so that they will receive better care. Let’s face it, when babies smile at us, they make it so hard for us to resist dropping everything else to attend to their needs!
I believe the addictiveness of babies’ smiles lasts well after they gain autonomy in their physical and mental capacities, acting not so innocent any more. They talk back to us, they do not listen to us, they do things we specifically tell them not to… they irritate and frustrate us. But, when they give us a big smile, they make us want to help them in any way we can out of any troubles they have gotten themselves into.
I understand that this is a system shaped by evolution to allow our babies to grow safely to maturity. Smiles are strong innate cues programmed into us to prompt behaviours designed to safeguard our children from harm. We lose these smiles, we lose our children… and our future.
Fifteen years ago today, we lost forever eight beautiful smiles of first- and second-graders at a primary school in my homeland, when a man with a knife walked onto the premises without any suspicion. Since then, we have made today the day to establish and maintain school safety throughout the nation.
Maybe in the fifteen years, we have been able to become increasingly aware of the need for school safety.
Maybe we have been able to tighten security in some aspects.
But maybe we have not done enough in other aspects – kidnapping on the way to and from school, bullying among students and by teachers, minimizing foreseeable and predictable accidents, securing escape routes in cases of disaster, and maintaining healthy school-child-parents relationship, just to name a few.
Maybe school safety is not a matter of concern for schools to handle by themselves, but something we can and must all pitch in to establish and maintain.
After all, kids’ smiles are supposed to make us want to do everything in our power to protect them, no matter what role we play in society.
Fifteen years from the horrific event, I saw on the news today a survivor talking about her dreams as she had just begun a new chapter in her life in the workforce. She said “Back then, people around me kept my smiles safe. Now, I want to keep others’ smiles safe [my translation].” I think she is a living proof of how keeping kids’ smiles safe can be positively reinforcing, self-propagating, and worth promoting.
Let us work together to keep our kids safe so we can keep seeing them smile.