I work at a high school and sometimes I get so disillusioned with students. They are tuned out. They are sleeping on their desk in a puddle of drool, on their phones snap chatting their brains out, ear buds in, music blasting…tuned out to the world. What is their problem??
I have heard that this generation is known for its apathy. Us older folks would know, we just love to make sweeping generalizations about an entire generation.
But, is really apathy?
I’ve seen teens organizing marches, fighting for causes, building things, inventing things, writing music, acting in plays, leading clubs. I’ve seen passion and wonder and kindness.
So I dig a little deeper. Maybe I’ve missed something. What do so many of these “tuned out” kids have in common? What I’m finding is that it’s not their age, sex, race, or even maturity level. What they have in common is the circumstances they were born into. Things they had no control over. Things like being born with a learning disability, or fetal alcohol syndrome, or born into a house where there’s drug abuse or mental illness or absentee parents or a never ending cycle of poverty. They are kids who can’t always control their emotions or behaviors. They often show up to school after being yelled at, or without having had anything to eat. Or a shower. sometimes I’m amazed that with so much going on these kids even make it to school in the first place. It’s kind of amazing.
What I’m saying is that these kids have been beaten down. They want nothing more than to check out. In my mind, (my fed, showered, safe, loved mind) they should want to try even harder. Push through it all so they can have hope of a better future. And this is the part that makes me so mad. I want them to have a better life, more options, a future that’s better than their present. I know how important education is. I want them to pull themselves up and at least try. Why can’t they at least try!?!
One of my favorite quotes is from The Perks of Being a Wallflower – “We accept the love we think we deserve.” But…What if even closer to the truth is this – We accept the life we think we deserve.
Maybe, when life has beaten you down in so many different ways, you start to believe that’s all there is. That that is all that you deserve. That there is no point in trying.
If this is true, then I’m going about this all wrong. Maybe this doesn’t have to be the Titanic. Maybe there are enough lifelines for everyone.
I still believe that you can’t save anyone who doesn’t want to be rescued. That each person has to decide for themselves that they want to be saved. Not everyone has the desire or even the strength to reach out for help. But, that doesn’t mean my hands are tied.
So, I start tossing out lifelines.
There’s this student who is so great but also a handful and always in trouble. We’ve had a lot of heart to hearts. During one of those talks I told him that I believed in him. His response was that he didn’t think he could believe in himself. Ugh. So sad. So I promised him that I would do everything in my power to change that. Whenever I run into him in the halls I call out, “I believe in you!” (I also ask him how his classes are going and if he’s going to graduate and how life is in general.) Is he embarrassed on occasion? Maybe. But he also knows how deeply I believe in him. And I’ll keep telling him til the day he graduates.
I send him a lifeline.
He just needs to know there’s someone out there who cares. He needs to know his life counts.
These kids are everywhere. They’re sleep deprived, angry, numb, snarky. They make bad choices eat bad food and shut down at school. And they need to know that someone cares.
And so I do the only thing I can. I spend my days throwing out lifelines every chance I get. Not everyone will grab one. But it’s the only thing I can do.