I’m sitting in my daughter’s home watching her dogs while she and her family vacation in Hawaii. I am a person who enjoys quiet, so the experience is much like a kind of respite for me. I spend my days doing a whole lot of nothing while the pups hover around the chair where I sit. Now and again they want to snuggle with me or wrestle a bit and I indulge them. We have a very nice arrangement and they seem to know when to vie for my attention and when to leave me alone. For me this is a very pleasant experience.
I’ve done a great deal of surfing on my laptop computer. I’ve managed to read dozens of newspaper and magazine articles along with enjoying some online books. I do Wordle each morning and check out Facebook to see what my friends are doing. I’ve learned that practically everyone that I know seems to be on vacation somewhere having a fabulous time while the world itself seems to be imploding. At least that is the impression that I get from my reading.
It’s easy to understand how someone who is alone and having a difficult time physically, emotionally or financially might devolve into a kind of hopeless depression if they are keeping up with the online commentaries. I suspect that our global fascination with social media and instant news flashes is both a very good and a very bad thing at one and the same time. While the internet keeps us informed and connected in a way never before possible, it also has the power to make us feel anxious and even a bit dissatisfied with ourselves. It may busy our minds with unhealthy even destructive thoughts. Such is especially true for anyone who is isolated or already living in a chaotic environment.
I wonder sometimes what kind of impact the internet has on people with disturbed minds. I worry especially about young people who spend hours in their rooms gaming with strangers or chatting with people they barely know. Kids used to generally get out much more than many do today. It has become normal to see teens constantly gazing at their phones rather than being present in the moment of wherever they happen to be.
I heard a recent commentary that claimed that almost fifty percent of teens are experiencing depression at some level. They speak of feeling abandoned, misunderstood, unloved. While these tend to be the somewhat normal adolescent anxieties, I wonder if they are being magnified by the barrage of online imagery and commentary that constantly invites comparisons. How many of our youngsters and even adults feel less than the others that they see others smiling and having fun when their own lives are marked with loneliness?
Even adults are having a difficult time getting along these days. They argue with each other over how things should be, dotting their discussions with cruel insults rather than rational thoughts. Our society is a confusing mix of contradictory ideas that the various sides argue about continuously. So many among us view differences as deviant behavior rather than just accepting people as they are. Lots of young people complain of feeling unseen, unheard. They long for someone to just love and understand them rather than critique them.
I really appreciated a feature of the last school where I worked. Each group of about one hundred twenty five students had an adult charged with watching over them as their team leader. This person regularly checked on each students’ well-being and got to intimately know each individual. In addition every two hundred fifty students had a social worker who was available for counseling or whatever else they might need, including referrals for hearing tests, glasses, or psychiatric care. those social workers listened to their charges and helped them to navigate through the angst of teen years. Finally there were three counselors who helped the students to discover their interests and develop plans for successfully navigating into adult life.
Teams of teachers who worked side by side with the team leaders, counselors, social workers and school administrators. the goal was never to allow any student to fall through the cracks, to feel invisible. Parents were also consciously brought into the mix and encouraged to contact the school with any concerns that they might have. On the whole the attention served the students well. Mostly they understood that there was always someone who cared about them.
It took a great deal of teamwork, effort and financial expenditure to pull off this program, but I always felt that it was worth everything that we put into it. We found the kids who were hiding in their rooms from abusive parents, the ones who were cutting themselves, those who were using drugs to numb their pain, the sorrowful teens who felt uncomfortable in their own skin or sexuality. We helped them to understand that they we really cared about them and their welfare.
While we did not succeed in every single case, our record was mostly spectacular. Our students responded to the love we offered them, even when it was sometimes tough. They knew that they were safe in our hands and that each of them was precious. We did our best to support them through those grueling teen years. They had a foundation upon which to build the rest of their lives.
I often wish that every single school used the model that we developed. I abhor the thought of even a single soul feeling lost and believing that he or she does not matter to anyone in the world. Everyone needs to be seen and loved without conditions. That is what we tried to do. Everyone deserves that much, but sadly we are so busy with a whole lot of nothing that we do very little for the quiet souls suffering in silence. We suggest that they pray and learn to conform when we should be instead allowing them to tell us how they really feel and what they really want. So many problems are solved just by taking time to show someone love.