Life is short.
I’m continually being reminded of this harsh reality.
More than anything, I can’t believe how many lives are being cut too short, as people choose to take their own life.
I feel surrounded. It seems almost weekly that someone chooses to jump in front of Caltrain or off a bridge into the middle of the freeway. It seems like the past few weeks have been bombarded on our staff as friends, family, and a former school family have been devastated by suicide or suicide attempts. It hurts. We cry. We question. We don’t understand.
At the same time, it feels that teen culture has a romanticized view of death. The conversation is continually coming up in my classroom, and I don’t really know how to handle that.
I’m starting to think that culture, especially teen culture, is overglorifying (by glorifying it at all) teen death. I love John Green novels as much as the next girl, but I worry about my students falling in love with characters who drink, do drugs, sleep around, and die too prematurely. It scares me how much my students love these characters in the midst of their deaths. The stories seem too real, too life-like, and I worry about our inability to separate their stories from our own realities. And Green isn’t the only author that weaves these topics into his novels. Most of my favorite young adult books within the last two years have at least one pre-mature teen death. This, coupled with these authors’ real-life characters, has worked its way into my students’ hearts and minds. And frankly, it scares me.
And I know it’s all over their social media too. People are crying out for help or attention, but they’re often the people my students don’t know, people they just see online. I’m worried about how this may romanticize suicide and death. Yet I don’t know how to help it or stop it. Or if I should stop it.
There have been a couple of instances lately where my students have produced work to raise awareness for teen suicide. Even though they don’t feel suicidal themselves, these creations used the first person point of view. It made me uncomfortable. On one hand, this probably means it did its job. However, on the other hand, I worry about how easily my students were able to portray this point of view. When I was thirteen and fourteen, I lived in blissful ignorance, happy in my own little world. My only tragedy was the fact that I looked like a boy. The things my students process just don’t seem right.
I’ve been ruminating over these things for the past three weeks, but I still can’t find peace in it. I don’t want to hide these horrors from my students and put them in a bubble, but at the same time, I worry that the popularity of teen death in culture is making it more prevalent, resulting in lives prematurely lost. How do I have healthy conversations with students about teen suicide when it feels like talking about it is part of what’s causing the problem? What do I encourage my students to read or not to read? How do we respond to a city that’s continuously closing roads and public transit because of these tragedies? How do I teach my students to bring hope to the hopeless and to keep the hope themselves? How do I spread that hope myself?
I can’t think of a good way to end this post, but maybe that’s just because I don’t have the answers myself, and that’s hard for me. I love my students and their friends and their families, and I’m heartbroken every time I hear another tragedy. And yet I myself don’t know how to help.