Published with permission. Here is what my friend and former colleague, Elizabeth Hasselgren, shared this week. She is a teacher and mother of teen girls.
I spend no less than 8 hours a day, 180 days of the year, in a high school classroom surrounded by teenagers wherever I turn. This was a choice I made when I was 15. I love my job. I love my kids. And, I am also a momma of two teenagers. Two amazingly beautiful (inside & out), intelligent, compassionate teenagers who have bright futures and the ability to do whatever the heck they choose. Regardless of the state, the size of the school, or the socio-economic status of the community in which we are located, this could still be us (victims of a school shooting). The thought of my girls having to experience such a tragedy makes me sick. The thought of any of my other kids (my students) having to experience such tragedy does the same. But reality is, this COULD be us. This could be us here, this could be us anywhere, at anytime, on any day.
What is the answer?
Fuck, I don’t know. But whatever the answer is, it isn’t simple. It isn’t just gun control. It isn’t just mental health awareness. It isn’t prescription medications or anything else that people want to argue. It isn’t about how many entrances and exits your school has. The solution, if there is one, and I am not convinced that there is, will be multifaceted: making some people happy, angering others, stirring up controversy at every turn because everyone thinks THEY are correct and are deaf to LISTEN to one another, to compromise, for what? For the sake of being right? At what expense? The lives of our children, our teachers, our administrators, and support staff?
In the wake of Santa Fe High School’s shooting and all the school shootings in recent years, in the wake of student suicides that many communities have experienced…people are quick to say things like:
“What is happening? What is going on?
What’s wrong with these kids? Why are they doing this?
What can we do?
Kids didn’t do stuff like this when I was a kid? What’s different?
No one would have even thought about that when I was a teen. These kids don’t know how easy they have it.” (And other things along these lines.)
Here are my Simple Girl thoughts on this:
I read a lot of news during times like these from a variety of sources, as not to be swayed by the ridiculously biased media trying to gain followers for whatever agenda they have. I look up facts and do research. I do this for my own benefit, for the benefit of gaining the awareness needed to do what I do each day (teach), for the empathy needed to help my kids comprehend what they are seeing and hearing, for an understanding of the what my kids are going through, and for clarity of the totality of the situation.
I AM WITH THESE KIDS EVERYDAY.
I listen hard. We talk a lot. I teach Culinary Arts. Super cool, fun for them to learn, and fun for me to teach…but it is so much more. I am in those kitchens talking with small groups everyday. We have discussions as large groups concerning their daily experiences, everyday.
I listen. They talk. It’s a beautiful thing.
Here’s the deal:
These kids ARE a lot like kids in my day and the days of generations past.
BUT, their world is quite different. They do not have the same experiences. The world they live in is largely misunderstood by the average American adult. These kids are sad, they are stressed, they are in constant comparison…by themselves and by others…to unrealistic ideals (looks, intelligence, success, wealth, fame, talent, you name it) These ideals are fiction, to most of us, but to them, starting at a very young age, are believed to be truth. These are the standards they feel they are held to and the ideals that they hold others to. Add the social media component and it becomes a perfect storm.
When I started teaching, the phone to have was the Motorola Razor. Everyone wanted this sleek, slim phone, but it did not have the capabilities phones have now. Fast forward to 2007, the BlackBerry was the new thing, and shortly thereafter, the iPhone in all its glorious capabilities was put into the hands of my high school students.
I remember one day watching a girl scroll through her phone on an app called Random. Random let you connect, real time, with strangers. You scroll left, new stranger, new PICTURE. At the moment, my thought was: Ho. Lee. Shit, this can not be good. Each year the age of phone acquirement has gotten younger and younger.
What have we done?
We have put the entire world…the good, bad, ugly, dirty, scary, and exciting world…in the hands of children. Children whose brains are not fully developed and said, “Here ya go!” Their brains are constantly going…taking in all that they see…and having to, essentially on their own because they know they aren’t supposed to be looking at these things, interpret it. All of it.
Most kids are insecure.
They were when I was young, but we didn’t have fake beauty in our hands posing as real beauty. I will never forget the day I showed my daughters Kylie Kardashian’s before-and-after face. They were shocked.
Thanks to social media, I am able to keep my family up-to-date on our Texas shenanigans. But, thanks to social media, our kids cannot escape bullying, cliques, not being invited to a party, etc.
Social media perpetuates the insecurities of young people by summing up their worth in number of likes and followers.
Kids will pay for followers just to say they have them. Logical? No. But their brains are not developed, and the lack of logic is not their fault.
Our children are growing up too quickly.
We used to be able to protect our kids from the things in their world that they were not yet ready for. We cannot do that any longer. We used to hear a lot less about the bad, sad, angry things in our world. We now have web pages dedicated to each of these things. How to cut, how to kill, eating disorder support pages (Thinspiration). We can find out, in the privacy of our bedroom, how to make a bomb and order all of the supplies. We can tear others down while safely hiding behind our screens. Some of us can’t ever escape this; we see the ideation and support of people who hurt others and strive to be like them.
Every show on prime time TV is littered with sex, drugs, ill behavior, and poor language. Yes, those things exist, but prime time TV is usually family TV. While these things are not fake, they shouldn’t be normalized.Why do we make people like the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, the Cash Me Outside girl, and YoungBoy NBA famous? How can 16 and Pregnant be such a hit show, not to mention making these kids wealthy celebrities? Why do kids believe that they need to be famous?
It is a sad day. It is a sad time.
Some parents are the problem, too.
Parents should protect their kids from this, but many are just as caught up. Keeping up with the Joneses, doesn’t mean just the families on your block anymore…it’s every family in your community and beyond that have kids in the same age bracket.
Parents then transfer the stress to their kids by way of GPA, how many AP classes their kids are in, which team their kid got placed on, how many sports they play, what schools they are planning on going to.
I live in a community that I love. It is a great place to raise my family and a great place to teach. But we get a magazine for free in our mailbox every month or so called Living. This is a magazine filled with plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, and million-dollar homes. Is this real life? No. It’s seriously disturbing.
What’s wrong with a modest lifestyle and aging gracefully?
What’s wrong with your kids being average?
Nothing. That’s what. But that’s not what they hear or see.
Speaking of parents, I am amazed by the sense of entitlement parents have:
Why didn’t MY child make the team?
Why did YOU give my child that grade?
Why isn’t MY kid eligible for exemptions?
Why is MY child being punished?
And on and on and on.
Here’s an example:
Just recently, I was working with a student who had poor attendance. As a result, credit was lost (If you don’t come you can’t get credit, duh). However, we can work with these students to help them regain credit by assigning “make-up” hours. We had a mom angry that her kid came to Saturday detention; she didn’t understand why her kid’s teachers weren’t going to be there to tutor her. Seriously? Are you effing kidding me?? Send your kid to school. Her teachers are there everyday. Meanwhile, said student is sitting right next to her mom listing to how disrespectful she is speaking to us. How are these children going to respect us, understand the importance of being at school, and follow the rules if their parents don’t?
Children are largely not being taught the value of honesty, hard work, and education. They do not value life, their own or others. Family values have shifted or are non-existent.
I know this is mostly a ramble. These shootings are hard to shake. I am sad for these kids. I am sad that my children are being brought up in a world so tainted with negativity, hatred, anger, and sadness. I am sad that we don’t value each other.
I am sad.