From an AB Adult to All of You

A lot of kids have talked to me about their wish to get the perspective of a teacher, parent, administrator, etc. on what’s been going on in our community. Luckily, one of those people also messaged me and asked me to share this anonymously with all of you. Incredible words that everyone should live by.

Advertisements

“So many words of sorrow from young people mourning their peers, remembering times of anxiety, depression and hopelessness in their own lives, and asking for change – whether it be from their school, their parents or themselves.

Here is an adult voice with, perhaps, a different view. When my son was in high school (not AB) he was a happy, active, academically motivated and fun loving. Around the age of 16 things began to change. He began to stay in his room, and not go out unless it was to school or sports practice. His beautiful laugh disappeared; his participation in our family diminished and I was scared. I must have asked him a million times what was wrong, but he would never confide. Everything was fine. As things continued to slide downhill, I remember physically planting myself in my bedroom, which was right near his, so that I could be nearby in case he decided to come out and talk to me. Although eventually he confessed to anxiety, and I took him to a psychiatrist, after a few visits he would not go back. When he turned 18, things did not get better- but I did lose whatever right I had to get him help. For the next seven years he lived a nightmare, and I answered every phone call thinking that it would be the one where I would hear something awful. So far he is still alive, and I have been proud to watch him claw his way toward a good life- though far from what we would have once thought he would be, even though still burdened by demons beyond my imagination.

I think that young people have to stop blaming your school or yourselves for not doing enough because I think when someone is mentally ill they are not in a place that is reachable. It’s hard for anyone to imagine how deep the blackness can be; and sometimes no amount of love can break through. All that being said, I have to say that the kind of anxiety and depression that is rampant among young teens across our country is sometimes a different problem- not mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia but a symptom of societal dysfunction that we probably could do something about.

Your stories of “mean kids” and those who are unkind are not new to your generation, and while this kind of teen mind game is not helpful for a person who is depressed, it is also not the cause. Feeling as though school is stressful, feeling awful over poor grades, ashamed of not measuring up- these too are not new to you.

Two things seem new- and these things would require parents to make some changes. First parents have to turn down the pressure cooker and let kids just be kids. Stop signing them up for every activity in the world to keep them busy after school, or because everyone else is, or because “she really, really begged me to let her,” or because if you don’t she might not get a college scholarship, and you sure could use that! Make them put down the phone or computer once in a while- it’s not true that because we have technology it’s a good idea for your kids to use it 24/7. Stop encouraging them to do stuff because “it looks good on the college resume.” In fact, stop talking about college altogether. Trust me, they’ll go, and they’ll be fine, or they won’t go, and they’ll be fine, or maybe, somehow, they won’t be fine at all, and that sucks but it’s not something you can prevent. Trust me, I know.

Second, somehow the goal of keeping children safe in the world turned into keeping children in a bubble in the world. The bad thing about this is that you are kept soft, like a crab without its shell, and so when something hurts, you have no armor. We can’t make a world where there is no cruelty- unfortunately, some people are just idiots. But when you “survive” the humiliation of having kids make fun of your name, or your clothes, or your failures at an early age, eventually you notice that the world did not end. It’s kind of a cliche, but our parents and teachers really let us experience the world with very little intervention. If our teacher yelled at us, we never told anyone, and eventually learned that some teachers were nuts, and we kept out of their way. If we forgot our homework at home, no one brought it, and we certainly did not copy our friends. We took the detention, and tried to remember next time. When we didn’t have money to go somewhere, we didn’t go. When a kid pushed us around, we either pushed back, or kept out of their way. Our parents kept their eye on us, but let us go. And we got hurt, we misbehaved, some of us broke the law, some of us had, indeed, low self esteem. And the world didn’t end. Without realizing it, we were developing the kind of shell we would need when we left home. And thank goodness, because things got harder!

Young people should rebel more. And rebellion is hard because there are consequences. If you tell your parents you’re not going to do something you don’t want to do, it’s true they will be mad and might ground you, but I promise they won’t “kill you.” If you decide to take lower level courses because you would rather have more time to hang with friends, or read books or sit around and stare at the wall contemplating the meaning of life, I promise you will still get into college- though maybe not Harvard. Take the SAT’s just once and live with your grade; apply to four or five colleges, and then be done.  You should just ask your girlfriend to the prom with your words, in a quiet place, without  a prop- just you.  You should skip school in the spring on the first nice day, and take the loss of points on your GPA (maybe the school should just freaking lighten up on this skipping school punishment but that is a story for another day.) You should go out at night, and do silly things like make snowmen at midnight in a neighbor’s yard, or go pool hopping in the summer, or take the train to Boston just because. Forget trying to please teachers who tell you that their subject is the meaning of life- be true to your childhood, and play- they already had theirs, now it’s time for yours. I promise that getting into a “good” school offers little advantage just because of name, and certainly not any advantage worth your childhood- I promise that your own drive and motivation is what will make your education special.  When you are old and gray you are not going to wish you had gone to a better college.

I started this post talking about my son’s mental illness, and segued into a speech about how giving kids back their independence and childhood will make you healthier- mentally and physically. I was unlucky, because my son had a serious mental illness that I didn’t cause, and he didn’t cause and society didn’t cause. It just came, out of no where, like a sly darkness. But most of you are not in that place. There are these two kinds of mental illnesses- the one kind is a tragedy and no matter what part you get in that play, it is hard to make it come out well; but the one I think most of you are experiencing is more culturally spread, and I believe you can do things to lighten your load. It has to be done early, as we can see by the recent suicide of such a young child, and it has to be done often. Your childhood is not about preparing for college, it’s about preparing for life.”

Author: Erica Taylor

I generally write under a pseudonym (contact me for more info on that) but my website is currently down for maintenance. So I created this blog to share my tamer, more publicly acceptable pieces (AKA the things that are acceptable for Facebook). *My twitter account that I use for my writing is still up, but is also under a pseudonym. Contact me for more information on that, as well.

10 thoughts on “From an AB Adult to All of You”

  1. Thank you for your insightful and thoughful post! I am a former AB student (K-12) and a current teacher in the school system now. I also suffer from bipolar and major depression. I grew up with the most supportive home with loving, involved parents; I was a good student and a three sport athlete, yet the darkness in my mind took over my life. There was no cause or reason for my depression. However, the success-driven enviornment did not help the case. The fact that I was a B+ student and not an A- one would destroy me, or that I didn’t have a single “friend” but instead many “aquaintences.” I would beat myself up constantly. Appearances were everything in high school. While I appeared to be okay on the outside, I was literally dying on the inside. The dark and disturbing thoughts that went through my mind never stopped. I was constantly hurting myself- physically, mentally and emotionally.

    My perception of life was that if I didn’t get into a great college with a good paying job, I would never be successful in life. I did get into a wonderful college, however depression took over my life. Even when seeing the correct doctors in college- I had four suicide attempts in 2 years. My school asked me to take a medical leave of absence. I took that time to rehabilitate myself from the inside out.

    I had to re-learn life skills that never stayed with me before. I worked on improving myself as a human. I learned to value myself like I had never done before. Where I used to think that your value was based on your education and job, I began to see that it things like helping people and asking for nothing in return, or having a conversation and looking someone in the eyes, or even just learning to enjoy life by smiling and laughing. These skills were foreign to me. These basic human qualities were something I never thought mattered before.

    It has been 10 years since I have caused self-harm to myself or been hospitalized. What a dramatic change it has been! I am now teaching children life skills in a classroom. Something I never understood before, but I so incredibily vaule today. As the author stated, I think it is so important to lighten the children’s load and let them enjoy life. It’s not about preparing for college, it’s about preparing to become a good person and preparing for life on life’s terms.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While I do agree with and appreciate most of what you wrote regarding the need for kids to enjoy their childhood, I do not believe that there are two types of mental illness. I think all mental illness/depression/anxiety should be taken seriously at ALL times. I am also reluctant to have any sort of assumptions or judgements about the family’s role in losing their child to suicide.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done. You verbalized what I have been trying to for a while. I am an AB grad as well as a mom of current and former AB students. AB has always been a focused and driven school and that is why many have chosen it. One of the big changes I’ve been seeing over the years is the coping skills of its students. Parents and students are so narrowly focused on the end goal that they are missing the joys and freedoms of childhood and adolescence that are described by the author. Those things are important to have a well balanced child who becomes a well balanced adult.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this insightful, thoughtful post. I’m a grandmother now, having raised my three kids. I’m a former Acton teacher, and the mom of a young teacher in the system.
    Your words could be used to guide so much of what we all do every day!
    I hope you don’t mind, but I linked this post in my own small blog. You helped me get through a tough day!
    momshieb.wordpress.com

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Exquisitely expressed and so spot on….total truth. I am a former AB Mom and a present AB Grandmother. We are certainly navigating in a different world than when I raised my sons, but certain things remain constant truths. I wish the best for your family and your son.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s