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A Chance For Happy Days

arnolds

Adolescence is not fun or pretty. There is nothing “How lovely to be a woman” or “I am 17 going on 18” about it. It’s a wretched maelstrom of physical and emotional change. Everything feels chaotic and unending and there’s not enough life experience to offer a glimmer of hope. This is why teen suicide is so very tragic. No one would deny a teen’s real and crushing psychic pain. But we would probably challenge them in their sense of permanency. ‘Wait’ we collectively say; ‘it gets better.’ And we mean it, and it’s likely to be true. For some time the news of teen suicides has be packaged with pleas for adolescent mental health care. Articles and news desk pundits tell us how to identify a child in crisis and where to get help. But today’s news that 55% of suicidal teenagers had received mental health care is jarring. Yes, there are still 45% of suicidal teenagers not receiving care. But the majority of teens in crisis are getting help. Therapy is tricky business of course. Finding the right therapist for a patient can be challenging. Finding gifted and accessible adolescent specialists can be tough. Prescribing just the right medication to someone who isn’t growing and changing daily is difficult. Monitoring the taking of medication is…well if you’ve ever met (or been) a teen, you know how crafty they can be.

Whether we think that ending one’s life is a personal choice is irrelevant when it comes to adolescents. We may believe that grown people who have exhausted themselves and every option to alleviate their physical and/or psychic pain are entitled to just stop, but that’s not applicable to discussions of children. Teenagers are by definition closer to children on the maturity spectrum. They simply don’t have the life experience or fully developed brain to make such a decision. There are teens who have serious physical and/or mental health issues. There are teens who’ve witnessed or been victims of horrific acts. If they were middle-aged people still suffering intensely this would be a different conversation. But they are teenagers. They are not allowed to drink, vote, live alone or rent a car. They are simply incapable of making a rational terminal decision.

So what can be done? We know that boys are more ‘successful’ at attempts than girls. We also know they tend to be more violent overall. Unfortunately it does not go without saying that there should never be weapons in a home that includes children. There also should be no access (no guns or other weapons in cars, workplace, sheds, trailers, etc.) No weapons ever. There needs to be talking lots of talking. Most teens are sullen and uncommunicative at times, but adults should not be. Your teen may be bigger and stronger than you, but you are still the adult. If your child is more sullen than not, and/or has lost interest in activities (did he/she quit a team or a friend?) tell the school’s administration and teachers. The more people watching out the better. If the child is utterly noncompliant (won’t come out of room, won’t go to school, etc.) it’s time to involve more people and perhaps inpatient care.

It’s hard to think of an adult-ish appearing person with a full vocabulary as a child. But they are. For some purposes a teenager is more akin to a newborn than an adult. They are on the brink of learning an entirely new way of engaging with the world. They are often frightened of leaving the security of the home and entering the world on their own. We, (i.e., all adults in a teens life) must think back to how we scrutinized every movement and development in their newborn lives. We must revert back to the parenting that intervenes when something seems off. It’s frightening to challenge anyone let alone your child who makes your heart ache. It’s scary to exert authority over someone who might be larger then yourself. It’s terrifying to think that you might say the wrong thing; the thing that will actually drive him/her over the edge or out of your reach. Silence never saved anyone.

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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Childhood, Well-Being

 

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A Bully Plan

There is nothing good to say about bullying.  The very definition (picking on those weaker) is anathema to humanitarianism.  Exposing bad behavior is almost always a good thing.  However there is a fine line between discussing an issue responsibly and throwing a buzz word (in this case “bullying”) over everything.

Tossing buzz words around is irresponsible.  We saw this happen with the word “stress” about a decade or more ago.  Stress became synonymous with anxiety and is now only deemed as negative.  “I’m stressing” became an actual expression.  Between us, there is nothing negative about stress.  Positive excitement is stressful to the body and mind as well.  Is bullying ever good?  Certainly not to my mind.  But suggesting that an adolescent girl killed herself because of bullying…on Facebook, is absurd.  It diminishes her troubles and pain (whatever their genesis) and demonizes the abstract.  Suggesting that she was a victim of her computer and that her screen drove her to death is a wretched portrait to paint of a troubled teenager.  In fact, suggesting that anyone was driven to end their life due to bullying smacks of complacency.

No doubt, as adults we may not remember the turmoil of adolescence.  Everything was Very Important and permanent and fraught with drama.  Rarely were we our best selves.  Our identities only existed as they were reflected back to us by our cohort.  What an awful time it was.  Adolescents (particularly girls in the middle school years) can be pretty nasty as they claw their way to relevance. When we layer this anthropological phenomenon with the current social climate, things can get dire.

Most of us did not grow up in an age of digital cameras and instant (permanent) exposure.  We probably did not grow up in a world of celebrity (for no apparent reason) suggesting we should all live in the spotlight, behave badly, always be styled and airbrushed and party like it’s…you get the idea.  We probably didn’t grow up during a time when college was seen as a given, and the only path to income, yet was academically and financially unattainable to many.  Many of us did not grew up with parents simulating aircraft above our heads.  We were independent-ish and expected to manage our own social and even academic world.  (Note: personal responsibility is the key ingredient for self-esteem.)

Adolescence+increased external pressure+diminished internal resources can add up to a troubled teen.  Luckily, their world is populated by adults.  Teachers, nurses, administrators, coaches and guidance counselors see the good, the bad and the ugly.  Parents are in the best position to see the unhappiness in their child.  Many do and struggle with how best to care for their child.  Depression, either clinical or non-clinical sadness, is frightening in a population known for their lack of impulse control.  A teenager who has lost interest in pleasurable activities, and/or has changed his/her sleeping/eating patterns should be seen as in crisis.

Bullying can most certainly push a vulnerable teenager over the edge.  So can a bad grade or a romantic break-up.  However, when the media hauls out bullying experts our limited attention shifts to the external.  It is the at-risk adolescent that warrants the attention, not the behavior of others.  A healthy and supported teenager will not log on to Facebook if it brings unhappiness.  A healthy and supported adolescent, no matter how quirky, will not be driven to self-harm by the comments of others.  Bullying will always exist, empires were built on it.  Where we need to focus is on those adolescents who need support.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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Living Alone

Have you heard that the most coveted metropolitan apartments are those with 3 or more bedrooms?  If so, did you, like me, conjure images of bloated blended families, bedrooms crammed with same gender minors?  How quaint you and I are.  The bedroom explosion is not due to excessive procreation or bunches of newly made families.  This new real estate holy grail’s raison d’etre is so that no child should ever have to share a room.  There are a handful of very legitimate reasons that children should have separate rooms (ex., gender differences, disabilities, etc.) but we’re not talking about those right now. We are talking about small people who do not share a bedroom and sometimes not even a bathroom(!) with others.

Ordinarily I care not how people choose to fritter away their resources.  I do care however, when I can connect the dots between those choices and how they will/do affect society at large.

A wonderful piece was written today about college roommate selection.  The author mourns the loss of randomness of the process and bemoans the new (internet generated) self selection of like-minded roommates.  I share with him the loss of no longer leaving room for serendipity in one’s (young) life.  I have observed what I consider even more troubling, and that is the rise of the “single.”  When I was a freshman, our (cave) dorms were populated with doubles and triples.  I think there might have been a handful of singles, available at a premium, stashed in some undesirable old-people (a.k.a. upperclassmen) dorm.  Some people came to college with a friend from high school.  Those duos seemed to be equally split between choosing to room together and choosing to take their spin at the wheel.  Eight of us shared a living area, 20+ of us shared a common area and 100+ of us shared a television room.  And to any reader under 25, YES, we had indoor plumbing.

The last time I was on a college campus (much more recently than is normative) there was communal gathering, but no actual communing that I could discern.  Not surprising, the parallel play runs amok on campus.  Walking, and eating together still occurs, but all while the participants (electronically) communicate with others.  Single rooms are no longer the outliers, and there are more “grab and go” food stalls than dining rooms.  I have no issue with progress (technical or otherwise) but I do have an issue with isolationism.

Bert and Ernie have been negotiating shared space since the dawn of (children’s television workshop) time.  They compromised on lights-out among other grave points of conflict.  I wonder if the recent (abhorrent) discourse about the sexual orientation of (non-genital equipped puppet) characters, is a sign of the times.  Do we no longer even recognize the intent of these characters? Is sharing of space so foreign we must assign romantic intent?  What are we now teaching our toddler by giving them their own room?  What lowered social expectation do we have for our college bound adolescent when we approve a single?

Are these then the young people who enter the workforce (via the subway where they have sat with their legs splayed or stood at the door) to play their music audibly, eat (pungent) foods at their desk, and emanate noise through their attire and scent through their health and beauty aides?  Do they grow up to view public space as private, demonstrating this belief system by; crinkling plastic bags in theatres, strolling down the middle of sidewalks with double-wide strollers, driving without burden of directional signals, etc.?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps I am making a flawed leap of logic.  But leaping aside, I am at a loss how not teaching children/adolescents to live well with others is progress.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Childhood

 

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