Tuesday, May 16, 2017


B and I watched 13 Reasons Why last week. It was disturbing, as it should be. We watched it because everyone was talking about it, and I wanted to know why it was such a hot topic. Long story short- it follows the life and suicide of a teen girl, through tapes she made, explaining what every specific person in her orbit did to contribute to her suicide. It was how everyone failed her.

Now, I don't believe that one person can make another person commit suicide. I think they were trying to show how someone who is generally dramatic can take in all these separate events different than the next person, and you don't know what the building blocks are that can push a person to the point of no return. However- they did all fail her in different ways, which contributed to her feelings of isolation, loneliness, despair, depression, etc.

For me, it all comes down to empathy. The show is a little Heathers-like. Heathers for the current generation. Things happen that seem implausible in real life. Like, why is almost everyone an only child? Besides the point, but we found that odd. Anyway, what most of the characters were lacking was a general empathy for another human. Their first instinct, after each one listened to the tapes, except Clay, was to figure out how to get themselves off the hook. Especially when Justin mentioned killing Clay somehow to make it look like suicide. They all wanted Clay stopped, maybe not wanting to take it as far as Justin suggested, but that was their main concern. And they were all sort of surprised that their part really made that much of a difference to Hannah.

Even in the other side stories, it was all about covering their own asses. The girl who knocked down the stop sign that caused the car accident, Hannah being in the room, not stopping Bryce with Jessica. Justin not stopping Bryc or telling Jessica what happened after. No one stepping in during the fight outside between Alex and Montgomery. Even the school counselor! He was the worst with covering up, trying to cover himself! Everyone was just worried about themselves.

I was musing on all of this when the death of Timothy Piazza hit the news. That's the boy who died at Penn State after a fraternity hazing night. Again, just like in 13 Reasons Why, the first instinct was for the brothers of the fraternity to try to cover their own asses. They started trying to delete texts, photos, and whatever off their phones, Tim's phone, and get their stories straight. Of course, in this day and age, nothing is ever fully erased, and that's what really makes them guilty- the cover-up. It wasn't bad enough they had no moral compass whatsoever, to make sure no one got hurt in the first place, but then that they had none to make sure this particular kid was okay. They were like wild animals. Like Lord of the Flies, they just pushed him down, stepped over him, and treated him like he wasn't even a living, breathing human. There was no thought of how to take care of this person. These were supposed to be his "brothers" after such a night. Nevermind brother, had he lived, he should've pulled a Carrie on them after.

While I'm glad the brothers involved are getting rightfully punished, it's really all of us as parents who should be looking to ourselves as to what we are doing wrong. "What, us?", you ask. I have an elementary schooler- not a college kid! I have nothing to do with Penn State! I wasn't even in a fraternity! Oh, yes, we all have culpability as parents. How? Well, what the F are we teaching our kids?

We, as parents now, we are washing our kids childhoods from any pain, adversity, critical thinking skills. We are calling teachers, doing their homework & projects, emailing college professors, calling potential employers, writing resumes, calling bosses, cashing in favors. They can't even have monkey bars anymore- as soon as a kid falls and breaks their arm, the monkey bars are removed. Long gone are my childhood days of doing the monkey bars over a black top surface.

Class gets detention because some kids were disruptive, kid who wasn't talking comes home angry and upset. Generally a good kid, never gotten in trouble. Mom actually gets angry at the teacher. Why? Is it really that upsetting for child to learn that even though someone else made the call that caused the ship to hit the iceberg, sometimes the whole ship goes down? How about learning to cope with life not being fair all the time, and that maybe the bigger picture is that being part of a class is like being part of a team. That you're all responsible for making sure it's the best environment for everyone. Mommy and daddy can't just call every teacher, every year, when something isn't fair. Is it fair? Don't know- wasn't there. Not everything should be fair. I remember my sister and I fighting, my mom didn't want to hear it, who was right or wrong- we both got in trouble. I look at this the same. The teacher is one person. It's probably a class of twenty or more. Teacher may not be able to tell exactly who is disrupting, so she just punishes everyone. Not a new or odd concept.

And the kid being upset? So? Is it that bad for the kid to be upset? I think the lesson is what the kid does with that feeling of being upset. Does the kid retain these feelings and decide to tell the teacher that it wasn't fair HERSELF? Does the kid swallow the feelings and just live with it? Does the kid decide that next time, they tell the disruptive kids to knock it off? There are so many opportunities there to learn coping skills. Mom said- "well, the kid was just upset because they never got in trouble before". Well, I think they ought to know what it feels like by that point in life. Even if it was punishment given somewhat "unfairly".  Now the kid knows what it's like to get punished just by association. Maybe unwarrented in this situation but will be likely thought about when it is warranted. If the kid is so upset, why not tell her to talk to her teacher about it. Tell the teacher that she thinks it was unfair, then let her listen to the teacher's explanation and digest that? That helps her more than emailing the teacher to tell her that you weren't happy with the punishment as a parent.

In E's class, they were doing a project on biographies. From what I understood from him, each kid was supposed to come up with three possibilities of who they wanted to do their report on. Then they'd be paired up with someone who agreed on one of those choices. If they didn't agree, they had to find some common ground to pick something. E had Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and someone else. The kid he was paired with wanted to do it on an author. They ended up with Babe Ruth because they couldn't agree. Baseball was their common ground.

Was E thrilled? No. He was annoyed. Did I care? Well, sort of. E is not a big fan of school in general. Instinctively, I'd like him to be able to be interested in what he's having to work on. Second, he told me that the teacher said Michael Jackson is an inappropriate topic. I was annoyed because I don't think Michael Jackson is inappropriate. He knows how/why MJ died. I wasn't annoyed enough to call the teacher about it. I probably could've because even if she thought it was inappropriate, now I have a kid asking why and what if I hadn't discussed the nitty gritty of MJ's life, that put me in a weird position. The reality is- her classroom, her rules, and I realize that there is always a lesson to be learned. He can't just do what he wants, he needs to work within her parameters of the assignment, and it was up to the partners to work out who to choose as their subject, without mommy running interference. 

Kids are not learning how to fly or cope. If they don't learn how to deal with disappointment, work with their peers, have empathy, show compassion, learn that life isn't always fair or fun, early on, as elementary school kids, they're never going to learn it. They're being taught that appearance is everything (I don't mean physical- I mean keeping up "appearances"), that mommy and daddy clean up messes, and they are always "too young" to have natural consequences.

There is a program tonight in my town about the drug problem in the high school, in the town, in the county- probably addressing all of it. Why should there have to be a program? Well, because we're not even allowed to DISCUSS people's kids in town stealing or being passed out on the lawn of one of the schools. Because "watch what you say, they're someone's children!". Well, guess what? A natural consequence of stealing or passing out on public property is embarrassing your parents. Maybe if more people were talking about it, the kids would be more afraid of doing it. Instead everyone tries to bury it, the unpleasantness, in the name of being "neighborly" and/or not "kicking people when they're down". NO. It should all be discussed. Would I be embarrassed if it was E? Of course! That's why I'm talking to him about it all now. Does that guarantee it won't happen with him? No, of course not. But it's something. He is being taught that we are not his friends. We're his parents, and we're not going to put up with that behavior. If he does something embarrassing like that, then he and we, will all suffer the consequences of his actions.

Bubble-wrapping our kids from failure, independence, making choices, critical thinking, accountability, and looking out for more than just themselves is doing a disservice to us all. Any one of our kids could end up being Timothy Piazza, his parents, or one of the eighteen charged in his death if we don't start allowing our kids to figure some stuff out on their own BEFORE they get to the age where they're supposed to know the difference between right and wrong. We become a nation of a lot of people just worried about themselves.

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