Life is getting back to normal for the students at my sons’ school, Rockhurst High School, following the suicide of one of their own. This is good and healthy. “Life goes on” isn’t just an inspirational quote in the counselor’s office. As parents, we’d still like more concrete answers as to why.
Kids and suicide are pairing up more than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen suicide has been climbing every year since 2007. The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has captured the zeitgeist with its cyberbullied and peer-pressured central character, Hannah.
So what are we missing? More comprehensive screenings? That sounds good. Broader access to mental health care? Yes, please. A vastly diminished inventory of internet vitriol? Oh, we want that for sure. We cover ad nauseam the long-term consequences of social media irresponsibility, the ramifications of digital cruelty and the importance of carefully curating one’s online life. What else is there to do or say?
Well, I have just a few more words for my own kids:
You are my everything, but you aren’t that to the rest of the world. Bad things will happen and be said; bet your birthday money on that. Just remember you are so very normal and well, average (in a good way). Sometimes I can even predict your thoughts and feelings.
Let’s say something big and awful is happening in your life. That’s hard enough, but now it’s all over Instagram and you are starting to panic. How did this thing become this thing? Your problem isn’t just a problem anymore. It’s become a whole world that everyone you know is inhabiting. And they’re commenting. And laughing. This is too big, too much and there is no way to stem this, to make this problem or action or comment disappear. So stop trying.
Take one step back. Someone you know is interested in something else today and they shared it. One of your friends is at baseball practice. Another is keeping Mom company while she puts the family dog to sleep. Things are happening in your orbit that don’t have anything to do with what you feel, read or hear about you. Really, just look and you’ll find them.
Take another step back. Now look at your city. A child was certainly abused today, like every day. Sporting KC had a nice win. There’s a concert coming in August. None of these things is related to the problem you have that has been magnified on Twitter by your friends. They aren’t related to the people who compromised your privacy on Snapchat. No one who cares about these other things even knows about your account … or you. Think about that for a minute.
Now take one last step back. Maybe a rare animal was born at a zoo in Holland. Some kid in Japan won a chess tournament. But you don’t care about any of that, right? That’s fine. You don’t have to care, because other people do and they don’t share your single-minded concern regarding you. This is about making the decision to see yourself and your problems from a different perspective. One that pulls you back from yourself. Everything looks smaller, even your fears, mistakes and embarrassments. Oh yeah, your accomplishments, too.
You are the star of your social media accounts and that can be pretty fun. But when it goes wrong, who remembers that awesome picture of you scoring a soccer goal last fall? Trust me, no one. So this will fade too. And until it does, walk away for a while and be part of the larger picture, you know, the one where you aren’t the biggest thing going on? Maybe for today that burden can rest on a baby panda.
Megan Oxler is a former marriage and family counselor and has worked as an adolescent therapist and child advocate.