What sort of society do we live in?
It’s certainly not a dystopia. When you read dystopian fiction the majority of people leaving in those worlds are oblivious to the negativities of their societies; I’m pretty sure the majority of the people living in the world today (especially in my pocket of the world) know that things are far from perfect.
Working in a high school, it’s alarming to see a dramatic increase in the numbers of adolescents with depression, anxiety and suicide ideation. In a way, I’m hoping the numbers lie. I’m hoping that things are no different to when I went through high school. I was depressed (self-diagnosed) – I often felt as though I had a black hole in the space between my stomach and chest that threatened to implode my body at any given moment. I’d planned my death a number of times and admit to jealousy when my uncle and aunty had the strength to go through with it. At times, things still get pretty dark.
^ I don’t tell people this. It feels very weird to see it on the screen in front of me.
Anyway, my hope is that modern teenagers just feel more open in revealing their anguish – that the number of my current students on Risk Management plans is no different to the number of students with mental health issues in years past, it’s just our awareness that has improved.
I have these discussions a lot. Why do our kids seem less resilient? Why does stress seem to have such a big impact on today’s youth? How do we get them through it?
I’ve blogged before that I think much of this weakness stems from society’s coddling of our current crop of children. We are unwilling to expose our kids to failure to the point it seems as if we’re afraid of what it will do to them. We don’t score in junior sports, we give out certificates of participation and we modify our education system to reward students for minimal effort.
^ this is a particular gripe for me. If a student (without extenuating circumstances) only completes 75% of a task, why should I mark them as if they’d completed it all? I wouldn’t pay a tradie if he only completed 75% of a job… and if their parents had only completed 75% of ‘the deed’ then I wouldn’t even have to ask this question. Plus, for the most part, the students failing to complete work are the sort of kids who won’t be demonstrating much knowledge or ability in their planning and drafting. (I could say heaps more on this and articulate my ideas better but that’s not the focus of this particular post.)
Ultimately, I think the biggest issue is our desire for immediacy. The rise of technology and the internet has made information, music and movies so much more accessible. Western societies have a love affair with fast food.
What do we want? Stuff!
When do we want it? Now!
Fad diets fail because people want immediate results. In a school context, system initiatives last for 5 years before they are replaced – hardly enough time to measure the outcomes they were targeting.
When I went through my ‘issues’ I knew it would take time. Everything did. We had dial-up internet and a random phone call would disconnect you from the web. In my house, we washed dishes by hand and chopped wood for the fire (no dishwashers or reverse cycle, ducted air-conditioners then). #firstworldproblems
Now, adolescents say they are depressed and they want medication thinking that mental anguish can be extinguished with a single pill. They say they are anxious and when a session with a psych doesn’t help their anxiety increases. Some of them say they are considering committing suicide and then… they’re gone.
My school is celebrating its 10th year this year and we’ve lost two young members of our school community (that I’m aware of) already.
There is no easy fix.
I do my best where I can. I tell ATAR kids that the exams are not the be-all, end-all. I tell them that I failed my TEE and still made it to where I wanted to be – one door closes… break a window and take it if you really want it. I try to make my classes engaging. I want my kids to want to come to English. The course content can be dull and difficult but I can help them through it if they’re there.
I tell my students when I don’t know something. I tell them when I’m down (and sometimes I tell them why). I let them know that I am human.
I make mistakes. I have regrets. I’ve upset a few people along the way and the pain of that guilt still lingers. BUT… I honestly believe that I am making a difference, that for some of these kids I am improving their quality of life.
It’s a precious thing (clichéd as that may be).
This world would be a better place if we could just love one another, if we could just live and laugh with each other.
Live, laugh, love.