This week I have been consumed with overwhelming sadness. Last Saturday I received a community message from our local police department that a teenage boy in our town had taken his life. Any time a young person loses his/her life at a young age it is heart wrenching but when it is voluntary it is even worse. I did not know this boy personally but he was a member of my community, a student at the local high school, the neighbor of a friend, a teammate to others. What I do know is that he was part of a community that didn't have his back. His parents are parents just like my husband and I, raising kids in an affluent area focused primarily on succeeding. I haven't been able to make it a day this week without breaking down in tears over my sense of responsibility in this. This young man left behind an entire community that is feeling overwhelmed by expectations and judgments surrounding what the kids are doing instead of how they are doing. What is your kid going to be, an athlete, a scholar, an inventor? Actually they have to be all of those things in order to get in. The admittance of your kid to a "selective" school is worn like a badge of honor. The Ivy League stickers are proudly displayed on the car windows. I live in a community where straight A's, AP's, being captain of the team and club president is expected. If you aren't all of those things you are a "loser", as this boy said in a letter he left behind. He also does not blame his parents but rather his surroundings and school. But all of us parents have contributed at some point, we all do it. I know I am guilty of getting caught up in it, the thrill of winning and getting in. When I sit down to write this it makes me feel sick because it could be any of our kids being buried this week. Even though we often talk about this among the parents, "how crazy is this, we never did any of this as kids," but we still allow it to continue. We go along out of fear. This overwhelming fear that our kid will be a "loser". Over the last few years I have distanced myself from my own community because of the same feelings that this poor boy had that took his life. We are living in a community, a bubble, that only cares about the stars, the over achievers. My son, now on his third college, was one of those kids. He was a great athlete, student, artist, business owner at 12, and a non-profit founder at 14. Our community had very high expectations of him. All of the cheering after every home run, every accomplishment and every award left me yearning for everyone to stop cheering because when the cheering stops what happens. Well, when the cheering stops the wheels came off. All of the past accolades don't matter when you are 2,500 miles away and all of the other kids are just as unique, qualified and special as you are but no one knows them self. They only know who they have been trained to be, pointed in a direction that they were supposed to go. Everywhere we went, it was "where is he going," then it was "how is he doing." But I felt that nothing said was sincere, but rather only comparison and competition. Is my kid doing better than yours? And when we were honest and said college was "awful" we were judged. And received the comments, "What could possibly be wrong, he has such a sweet life", "Why couldn't he fit in? " , "Why can't he just adapt?" "That is what college is", "Why is he questioning the norm?" "He needs to get over it." I wanted to scream from the mountain tops that the college experience was AWFUL and that these kids are messed up! We have messed them up! So many are going to college and drowning themselves, numbing themselves, jumping from buildings, hanging themselves, doing anything they can do to escape the lives that are expected of them. So instead of speaking my mind I distanced myself. I stopped volunteering at school, I stopped getting involved because I was sick of listening to all of the ridiculous BS from the parents. I didn't have anything to say to anyone. I didn't feel supported or listened to. But this is where the sense of responsibility comes in. I wish I would have been honest. Now, instead of quietly nodding when I get the comment, "third times a charm?" from other parents about my sons college path I will give the details. I will talk about the numerous suicides and near deaths of classmates of these colleges. I will talk about the miserable kids we met on these campuses that never wanted to go to college. I will talk about doing things differently. We are here to learn from our mistakes and maybe if I would have been more open, honest and forthright then we would have one more baseball loving kid in our community today and a couple less grieving parents. May you rest in peace young man knowing that I will no longer nod quietly but will speak up about the big mess we have gotten ourselves in as a community.
Interesting article about this that I read today: