Friday, May 12, 2017

Teenage Angst

We watched just finished watching the Netflix Original 13 Reasons Why. As a parent and an educator the show left many troubling thoughts in my mind. The show really hit on the drama of adolescents that sometimes I think we as adults overlook as kids just being kids. I'm not just talking about the bullying either. I'm talking about the mean girls, the pressure of sex and relationships, the cocky jocks that think they can get away with anything including drunk date rape, the drinking and smoking marijuana, the identity crisis of adolescents, the sometimes sexual identity crisis.

I've worked with teenagers for over a decade. I tell every group of kids their adolescent high school years are their toughest years until they reach parenthood. I had an easy adolescent experience, so I can only imagine how much harder it is for some experiencing family issues, poverty, some kind of loss, or a host of other struggles that many of us probably know very little about. The struggles- the kids at highest risk for making poor choices or facing an internal battle that could put them on the brink of suicide- are not something that just befalls a particular "kind of student" either, and we need to let go of that stigma of thinking adolescent crisis like mental health, suicide, eating disorders, bullying, unprotected sex, and drinking and drugs is something our kids are immune to. They are all at risk. We can helicopter parent all we want but the truth is we can't fight all their battles for them or even really know what all their battles are.

Too often I think we like to think our own families or kids are immune  to certain struggles, but I cannot tell you enough how much I have seen the kid that seems to have it all together with talent, great grades, positive friend circle, and yes even a great family succumb to the inner struggles of teenage angst. Don't overlook and discount their concerns, their moods, and definitely not their voice when they do decide to speak up.

As parents and a teacher I think one of the hardest parts is to recognize when they're angry and defensive but really they're crying out for help and someone to listen. As a teacher we are taught to try our best to look below their behaviors to try to understand their triggers and real struggle. Behavior is often an outcry to inner pain, but as a parent and teacher trust me I know how easy it is to see their outcry as just being a difficult phase or "typical" defiant childish behavior.

As a writer myself and an English teacher I like to get my kids to write. I would love to give kids more opportunity to write about them in the classroom rather than about literary analysis and a speaker's use of rhetoric because I fully believe in the power of people, particularly kids, using writing as a therapy to manage the tougher moments of life. I'll share this one story but really in thirteen years of doing this there are many more. My second year of teaching I had this class clown in my class of seniors. He drove me crazy with his constant disruption and crazy search for attention. One day I had them do this personal writing and then I understood. He had this older sister that was an all star athlete, great student, going off to a great college and though he himself was popular and an athlete he felt inadequate next to her. If he couldn't measure up to that pressure to be as much like her as possible he sought negative attention since he couldn't steal away her positive attention. I've also worked with so many girls that again were highly successful in the classroom and on the athletic field but the pressure to succeed was so overwhelming they found themselves in crisis situations with mental health issues, eating disorders, and even contemplating suicide.

Here's what I have seen after thirteen years of working with adolescents too. There is plenty of peer pressure with fitting in, but I think we also forget the pressure adolescents feel to succeed and excel and hold up this perfect image which is partially I believe a result of the social media world they now live in. Sometimes as parents and educators we feed that pressure which I think is okay in healthy doses but I've also seen the damage of unhealthy doses- something I know myself as a parent will really have to work on .

As an educator and a parent it's hard to imagine being in either shoes after someone you know and/or love commits suicide. I don't feel that either is at fault in the show.  It's just a painful tragic situation all around. But I think as parents, as educators, and as friends we all need to look for others' silent pain and not be dismissive of their teenage struggles and pain. We may never know when our kind word or our positive attention could be what saves someone else's life. So as always it's better to spread kindness and love than hate and rejection.

Maybe I should start writing TV Show Reviews. Here's my one from This Is Us

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