We can never turn back the hands of time, go to a place where the world seemed simpler. Today’s children will continue to be bombarded by technology and its capacity for good as well as its possibility for major detrimental impact. Do you have children whose behavior baffles you, makes you want to leave home? Do I have solutions? No.
When we discuss the negatives of social media/technology in my college communication classes, my students believe that the caregivers of today’s children must be responsible for what children see, do and experience. This, however, does not account for all those hours and days when children are not under the direct control of caregivers.
And then there are caregivers who give little or no care because of ignorance, poverty, addictions, and mental illness. Perhaps they are incarcerated, deployed to a war zone, working long hours at jobs with no flexibility, unavailable for a host of reasons. And some never had healthy childhoods and don’t have a clue.
At times children present baffling dilemmas to even the most conscientious caregivers: peer pressure; the temptation to experiment with tobacco, drugs, alcohol; body insecurities; emotional turmoil; anxiety; depression. The list goes on and on.
Karen Wallace, a student in a course I teach online for telecommunication employees, expresses the feelings she believes her grandson is experiencing:
I run to my room, fling myself on my bed,
There are too many thoughts jumping around in my head.
I hate my mom and my dad,
I don’t know why they make me so mad.
I feel like I don’t fit in my skin,
No matter what I do, I can’t win.
My tears burn my eyes,
And I stifle my cries.
Nobody cares what I want anyway,
I could just disappear today.
No one would miss me, of that I am sure,
They’d be glad I was gone, relief would be pure.
In preparing for the class in which Wallace and other participants are writing for children, ages primary school through young adults, I read a YA novel today by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Werlin, And Then There Were Four, published in 2017.
The story. Five teens, Caleb, Saralinda, Antoine, Evangeline, and Kenyon, discover a really twisted plot: their parents are trying to kill them. The goal of the teens becomes “Let’s not die today. Not even to make things easier for our parents.”
Werlin’s cast of characters is diverse, and she is in tune with what today’s young readers want: a page turner with role reversals and plenty of information in a host of areas that should interest teens: Stockholm Syndrome, diabetes, navigating the New York subway system, driving a power boat with no prior experience, and always, of course, love relationships — both heterosexual and homosexual.
Only one teen dies in Werlin’s novel, Antoine, diagnosed with Huntington’s disease and the victim of murder, arranged by his mother.
A teen suicide is the subject of a popular YA novel I read a few years ago — 13 Reasons Why. It is now a NETFLIX series and is popular with many teens. It is the account of 13 reasons teen Hannah Baker killed herself after her life spiraled out of control. A discussion guide is available online to “help guide productive conversations around the tough topics that the series raises and how those situations can be addressed.” Depression, bullying, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol abuse and the threat of gun violence are addressed in the guide.
The site also provides the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Life Line (800-273-8255) and contact information for free 24-hour confidential texting (REASON to 741741) for those who need help.
The Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and the American Psychological Association all have excellent materials on their web sites on teen depression, available on home compute or at a public library. It’s important to understand the symptoms, causes (Not exactly known but the Mayo Clinic suggests a variety of issues may be involved which include brain chemistry, hormones, inherited traits, early childhood trauma, learned patterns of negative thinking), risk factors, complications, interventions, and prevention.
So what are we to do? Educate ourselves, keep the lines of communication open, seek professional help for our children when the need arises, love our children and translate that love into our behaviors, and work for positive changes in our small part of a very large and complex world- at times terrifying to us but even more so to our children.