Of course, the school has brought in counselors who have done a heroic job of helping the other students to deal with the deaths, and there has been an outpouring of public support for the families of the dead teenagers. There have been articles in the press about how to discuss the issues with your teens, what to look for as indicators of suicidal thinking and what to do if you fear that your child is suicidal. Everyone working with teenagers in the county is urging them not to keep a peers suicidal leanings a secret; to tell a responsible adult.
All of this is good, and right, and the way to handle such things. In no way do I want to discount or minimize any effort that anyone is making to help our kids deal with this and to prevent it from happening again.
I do have a few issues to raise, however.
How willing is a kid going to be to talk to someone about were they are hurting when they are going to a school where they have to dress a certain way or be punished; where drug-sniffing dogs roam the halls (and perhaps there is even an in-school police station or probation office)?
How often is a teenager going to open up about insecurities, fears, drug use, sexual pressures, intimidation and all of the myriad emotional hurdles of adolescence in an environment that seems to value only achievement?
If that makes you uncomfortable, or defensive, or angry, think about these statements made by kids I have worked with:
- "I tried to talk to my counselor at school but they won't let me out of class to do it."
- "They don't have much time for me because I'm stupid."
- "I'm getting threatened every day but I can't fight back because I'll get arrested."
- "The counselor said that I could talk to her in confidence. Then she called my parents."
- "I don't want to get in trouble!"
And before anyone jumps to one of those worn-out arguments that measures like that are necessary, think about this. There are several excellent schools, right here in our county, that operate on a completely different philosophy, and they are doing just fine. No drug-sniffing dogs or metal detectors. Just trust and a mission of instilling a love of learning in their students. In my perfect world, the Public Schools would spend the money on a staff psychiatrist or other trained and independent mental health worker, instead of the metal detector and the drug dog or the in-house cop. Imagine that comment.
So, while there are excellent people in the public school system, the system itself is less likely to inspire the trust of a kid than the Juvenile Probation system.
I'm afraid the job of addressing issues like suicide and other tragic deaths with our teens is up to us.
(to be continued)