Don’t get me wrong. I respect the “It Gets Better” movement. I love some of the videos. And although I know that they were born as a means of support for gay teenagers, I think they have much broader applications…because middle school and high school suck for a lot of kids.
But, why do we accept that?
Long before there was an “It Gets Better” campaign, parents were commiserating with their kids that middle school was horrible for everyone, but it ended and before long it would be a fading memory. Teachers and administrators rolled their eyes and talked about how “difficult” adolescents were, feeling more sorry for themselves than for the 13-year-old girls contemplating suicide in the back of their classrooms.
I heard those platitudes when I was in middle school in the late 70s, and I was still hearing them when I rescued my youngest child from 8th grade in 2009. In thirty years, the best we’ve come up with is a video series that reassures our kids that the hell we’re forcing them through won’t last forever.
If you lived in an apartment building where your twelve-year-old was routinely bullied in the hallways, to the point that he was depressed and his whole personality was changing, would you give him a hug and remind him that in six short years he could move out on his own and get away from this? If you worked in an environment that made you physically ill every morning, if you stepped off of the commuter train each day kind of hoping you’d be hit by a car so you didn’t actually have to enter that building, would you keep that job for three or five or six years?
I suspect not—at least, not if there were any way possible for you to change it. Yet, we accept the high-stress, abusive, soul-destroying environment that is public school for adolescents and teenagers without a blink. We agree that it’s horrible, nod sympathetically, and tell our kids to hurry up and get in the car so that we can deliver them to its doors once again. And, we’re thankful when something like the “It Gets Better” series appears to give them hope for the future.
That’s our job.
And we don’t show them that there’s hope for the future by encouraging them to quietly serve their time in purgatory, to curl in on themselves and learn to protect themselves from the world and hide who they are until they can escape that environment. We don’t show them hope by telling them they’ll be happy when they’re twenty-five and expecting that to be enough, expecting them to even know what that means. We show them that the future can be better by showing them how to change it, by working our asses off to make the school environment better or by removing them from it and showing them that better world instead of just promising that it will come along one day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 15.8% of teens had seriously considered suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey. In fact, 5,400 7th to 12th graders in the
attempt suicide every single day. And we wait for it to pass? Hope they’re not
successful, or that our kids are the ones who escape (and the hell with the
ones who don’t make it)? Because, you know, that’s just how the teen years are.
Title notwithstanding, I mean no disrespect to the folks behind “It Gets Better.” I think it’s fantastic that successful people from many walks of life have invested the time and emotional energy to share their personal stories and give our kids enough hope to get them through the worst years of their lives. Now, it’s time that parents, teachers, school administrators and everyone else who controls our children’s destinies get to work making that unnecessary.