Sunday, October 3, 2010

No One Should Feel Alone

I'm a twenty-four year old, straight, white, male teacher. I was raised in a middle class family who lived in a small, rural suburban town with one traffic light that was almost always green. I have a twin sister who I basically always got along with other than typical sibling things, and two loving parents who aren't divorced. Growing up, people joked about making my family's life into a sitcom. I could go on about my life during college and after college, but I want to stay focused on when I was younger.

I write this because I have no experience with my parents getting divorced, or drug addiction within my family, coming out of the closet, or suicidal thoughts. My life has been, for lack of better words, utterly plain and free of emotionally trying events (well, except for one thing I won't mention). Things have always seemed to work out for me in basically every area of my life, and if they haven't worked out the way they were "expected" to work out, they ended up working out better for me in the long run.

So, how the heck can I help a student who is going through something completely different than what I went through growing up? The student who takes care of their younger siblings because mom or dad is working all the time, or because their parents are suffering from addiction...the closeted gay teenager who is trying to find a balance between fitting into the socially accepted mold of heterosexuality while staying true to themselves...the young girl trying to measure up to the expectations of her parents that she act just like her sister...a student who has lost a parent or sibling...

This is a question I often wrestle with. But ultimately, when students approach me to talk, they don't care about my past or what I have or have not been through. They simply want someone to listen with a set of ears and with an open heart. Providing those two things is the first step. I am by no means an expert or a counselor, and refer students appropriately as needed to other resources. While I've never had to deal with anything that is threatening, I think every issue a teenager wants to talk about is of the utmost importance and should be treated as such.

Recently the media has focused on the suicides of gay teenagers over the last week or so. The suicide of Tyler Clementi has brought at least four other suicides, all of gay young people in the last three weeks, to the attention of the major news media. A few years ago, there was a media blitz about shark attacks, even when statistically, the number of attacks was about the same (or less, if I recall) as usually reported. Columbine, 9/11, the Gloucester "Pregnancy Pact"...major events that brought something specific into our consciousness. In this situation, the event happens to be bullying of gay teenagers. I don't know the statistics, but if this event hadn't captured the event of the national media, there will still be teenagers struggling with thoughts of suicide every single day across the country.

It shouldn't take events like this to make us, as a nation, to address issues that affect thousands of people every single day. As a health teacher, I am all about prevention and not reaction. Bullying is already a hot topic in Massachusetts, and after the events of the last few weeks I'm sure there will be a focus on helping teenagers in need. Hopefully, this is not short lived. While I am happy that issues are being addressed, I'm still perplexed that it takes something major to happen for a dialogue to begin.

This week, I'm going to focus on identifying resources teenagers can use to get help with any sort of problem they might be dealing with. As educators, it is our responsibility to take care of our students. Many students come to us because they don't feel comfortable going to anyone else.

The posts that you will see published this week have been written on Sunday, and will be published automatically as the week progresses. Please forward any information as you see appropriate, and pass it along to your students. I may only get approximately fifty views a week, but if anyone of those fifty people can spread along information that can help someone else then I will have considered these posts successful.

Carry on, friends. No one needs to feel alone.

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