Our kids/students need us (adults) more than ever right now. I don’t just mean right now, as in this instant, but rather right now as in “this day and age”. I’m not here to be a Chicken Little and tell you that the sky is falling but, because the digital age is well upon us, our kids are exposed to any and everything that becomes popular…anywhere! While that can be a good thing, it is often scary and potentially dangerous. Our kids need us, they need adults they can trust, talk to, and learn from…we have to be available for them, to listen and to provide guidance.
This isn’t new, it’s been going forever but the realities of what our kids see/hear/experience online each and every day are frightening, it’s not what we grew up with! A few years back a frightening story came out of my hometown about two middle school age girls who tried to stab their best friend to death because they had been following an online character called Slenderman, it was crazy! Guess what – HBO optioned it for a documentary. This happened, literally, blocks away from where I grew up. Where I ran, rode my bike, and stayed out until the street lights came on…then went back out after dinner for more fun! The closest we came to this sort of thing was sneaking bootlegged scary movies (which were hard to come by!) into the basement at sleepovers. Now this sort of thing is everywhere and our kids are gobbling it up!
Recently I have seen a few more examples of the realities of what our students are facing on social media and on TV/Netflix. Most popular right now, the television show “Th1rteen R3asons Why” (based on the 2007 book of the same name by Jay Asher) has taken the young-adult world by storm, it is being watched by most of our high school students and a large amount of middle schoolers. I haven’t seen this myself but Amy is watching it and has engaged me in some pretty deep conversations about the realities of what our kids are facing each day as teens. According to Wikipedia, “the show revolve(s) around a student who kills herself after a series of culminating failures, brought on by select individuals within their school.” There has been a lot written recently about this show. Headspace (the same Australian group who produced the wonderful Mindfulness app I’ve used) has shown concern that people who have been exposed to the show may be at an increased risk or danger level because of it. Like I said before, I’m not here to be Chicken Little but we most certainly need to work hard to understand all of the risk factors our students are being exposed to on a regular basis. 13 Reasons Why is just one example of what’s out there for our kids, it’s TV and fictional but no doubt gives our students ideas or reasons to further consider thoughts they’ve already had. If they have no one to turn to for answers, conversations, or help then we’re not doing our job – we teach more than the content in the textbook!
Since I haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why myself I can hardly pass judgement on the show (or the book) but I am most certainly concerned that lines that have previously been respected are now being crossed. In this show, the moment when the main character takes her own life has been shown and narrated in detail. This sort of thing has previously been (unofficially) recognized as off limits for TV or movies but no longer does that seem to be the case. What is yet to come is anyone’s guess but it will most surely be further away from this previously uncrossed line. Even scarier than the prospects of what highly publicized media companies will produce next is the reality of what is spreading around the internet unsanctioned and unchecked, this is the part of the internet where our students live.
As I was planning and beginning to write this post it came to my attention that the newest topic of discussion for many of our middle schoolers is the “Blue Whale Challenge”. I’ve done a little research (granted not all of the websites are the most reliable) but they all say the same thing, the Blue Whale Challenge (it goes by other names as well) is a “suicide game”. Talk about scary! It has taken hold in Russia and parts of Europe where people are extremely worried about the potential effects for teens and others who may be looking for an outlet or even a chance to “fit in”. The fact that this conversation has spread to our community is extremely concerning but, as you can tell from my previous tone, not entirely surprising. It’s out there, it’s on the internet and it’s popular with their age group – it’s going to find a way into their world one way or another. Eeek.
So what do we do? What is our role? It’s a scary proposition for sure, especially for those of us who aren’t trained counselors, psychologists, or mental health advisors. However, we still have a role. We have to be good for our students, we need to build positive relationships with them so they know they have people to talk to. School should be the safest (physically and mentally) place for our students. They should know who they can turn to and feel comfortable approaching anyone. It’s not our role to initiate discussions with them about 13 Reasons Why or the Blue Whale Challenge but it is our job to watch and listen for signs. Kids cry out for help in many ways to many different people. If you see these cries, or even suspect that you’ve seen one, then share it with someone. Our counselors are amazing and we’re very lucky to have a school psychologist. They are resources for us just as much as they are for the kids, don’t be afraid to approach them. We’re on the front lines, we know these kids better than anyone (sometimes even better than their parents) and more than anything we care about these kids and would be devastated to see anything happen to them!
This is my cry for help, it’s me asking you to be the best for kids every single day in every possible way. I know it’s not easy and it may not be realistic for us to be our best all the time but whatever we can give to these kids without sapping ourselves of our own physical and emotional health, that’s what we should be giving…please.
Thanks for writing this and for encouraging teachers to talk to the counselors. Teachers do not have to support this weight alone and this is exactly why teachers and counselors need open lines of communication so together we can catch and address as many of the warning signs as we can. Thank you for nudging us all to open up the discussion.