I remember in my early teens, a lot of my friends felt pressure to own certain brand-name clothes, to wear their hair a certain way and have the right stereo/gaming console/CDs. We were very materialistic. Since then, society has made strides towards detangling our self worth with our worldly possessions. So, what kind of dilemmas face our young teens, these days? I think the answer would surprise and frighten you.
I’m glad that I have the type of relationship with my 13 year-old that he feels he can tell me things. But honestly, the things he tells me scare me. My son has a huge heart, and cares deeply for his friends, so it doesn’t surprise me that his friends unburden themselves on his caring shoulders. In turn, he needs support from me, because the issues he is facing are more than most adults can handle.
Here are some of the stories my son has told me:
A boy named Sam* lives at home with his parents, who both smoke. Sam’s hair and clothes constantly smell of cigarettes, through no fault of his own. People look down on him and call him white trash, but what hurt the most, was when his closest friend decided one day that he didn’t want to be friends with him anymore. Friends since pre-school, once they began 6th grade, the boy just stopped talking to him. He said it was hard on him, and since then, he has had issues opening up and letting new people in. He talks too much in class, and gets in trouble a lot.
Jack is popular, funny and well-dressed. His parents are wealthy and he always has all the newest gadgets. They take weekend trips to their house in Maine to ride snow mobiles and ski. But Jack’s parents don’t really pay attention to him, and he engages in increasingly more dangerous activities, hoping to catch their attention. Recently, he broke his ankle, riding a bike down a steep hillside full of trees.
A girl named Sue is lesbian. She came out to her parents, and has a great support system at home. She needs it, because there is no end to amount of slurs she must face, not only online, but while she is at school. The hatred she has had to stand up to in her short life boggles my mind, she is depressed and so it comes as no surprise the girl had at one time contemplated suicide.
Her friend, Sally, has not come out to her parents yet. She is in constant fear that her parents will find out, and has also considered suicide. Currently she self harms, by cutting.
Tyler lives with him Mom and Dad, who had him late in life. His next older sibling is 21, and none of the other kids live at home. Mom works, but dad is out on disability. Tyler revealed that his father often took pain pills for his back, and sometimes exhibited irritability as a side effect. His dad used to send him out to play, even on days when it was far too cold. Tyler soon figured when these events were about to take place, and left the house on his own, to avoid inevitably being kicked out for the afternoon.
Mary lives with her 5 siblings, mom and stepdad, and sees her father every other weekend. With so much going on in her home and traveling back and forth, no one had noticed that she was struggling socially. She is painfully shy, and is taunted for not being like the other girls. She doesn’t go for the brand-name clothes and wears her hair plainly. She felt alone and had no one to talk to. When she first met my son, she was planning to kill herself.
These children are in pain, and they just want to the pain to stop. They are acting out, becoming aggressive and considering suicide. You could never tell by looking at them. They pop up at my doorstep, looking for my son, all rosy cheeked and bright eyed, as youth tends to make people look. But they are hurting inside and they are coming to my son with their problems.
We all know there is pain in the world. You don’t have to know a child in danger before you talk to your child about these types of things. We certainly can’t barge into all these homes and tell these parents what’s what. But if you want to do something for these kids, start in your own home. Teach your child about handling these situations, what to say if someone if hurting themselves, or wants to and who they can report it to. No one wants to be the wet-blanket tattle-tale, but remember, those that speak of self harm, are asking for help. Whether they have plans or not, or even if they don’t intend to actually go through with it, they need and want help. People may think they keep their child safe, by shielding them from the things that can and do happen, but to send your child to school each day without the knowledge they need to handle some heavy problems facing our youth, is the same as sending them into a football game without a helmet and pads. Equip your kids with the know-how to navigate the world they actually live in, not the fairy-tale land you would make for them.
*All names have been changed to protect the children.