Standing Up

Oh hey.

Recently, we asked a group of teens to write down things they viewed as struggles.  I was stunned at how vulnerable they were willing to be.  It wasn’t just that they were writing these things down for us to see, they were writing them in front of their peers.  Some knew each other, some didn’t.  I was humbled by their courage, and inspired by their aspiration.  

They shared things like:

I feel like I have to be perfect. 

There’s a lot of pressure to be pretty.

I never feel like I’m skinny enough.

I vape, and I don’t know how to stop.

My relatives want me to be in a gang that they’re part of, and I’m afraid to say I don’t want to.

We don’t always have things to eat at home.

Next, we asked the kids to come up with solutions to their struggles.  Something they could do to initiate a change that would help kids overcome these types of problems.  I thought they came up with a brilliant idea.  They wanted to have a QR code posted at their school that they could scan, and vent about things anonymously.  They wanted to be able to say, “I’m so sad right now because this is going on in my life”, or “I’m having a lot of anxiety because this is happening”, and know they’re not alone. The school evidently has something similar currently, but the QR codes are posted in the hallways, where everyone can see who’s scanning them.  The kids suggested putting the codes inside the bathroom stalls, so no one would know.  Genius, right?  

We took their ideas to the staff at their high school.  At first, I kind of thought the teachers were rolling their eyes at us even being there, but as we continued to talk about the students’ idea, I watched them come alive: well, we probably couldn’t do that, because of this, but I bet we could do this instead and make it work.  It filled me with optimism, to see them genuinely caring about what their students needed, and becoming passionate about finding a way to make that happen for them.  

Except for that one guy.

As the staff are bouncing ideas off of each other, there’s an optimistic energy building in the room.  And then that guy speaks up from the back of the room and immediately shuts it down.  

He continued: What if a kid says they want to kill themselves?  What if they talk about a bomb threat, or a school shooting? What if they just use it to be mean to each other – they already have social media for that.  What if.  What if.  What if.  

You could physically feel the room deflate.

I stood up (Shocker, right?), and decided in that very moment that I was finished.

I’m finished with: 

Our policy says…

We’d have to look at our list of approved…

Our contract says…

Our handbook says…

The rules say…

We can’t because…

I’m over it.  Our kids deserve better.

Why is your immediate answer to shut them down?  These kids put themselves out there in ways I would have never imagined teenage kids would.  And they did that because WE asked them to.  They didn’t come to us begging for some adult to come fix their problems, WE asked them how we could help.  And while their initial reservations that someone really cared we evident, they sat down and worked together to come up with a solution.  They presented their idea with pride, and hope, and a sense of connectedness.  And then you kicked it out from under them.  I could already see the light going out in these kids. I knew in my heart that shutting them down would be one more time they trusted an adult, and got let down.

I can’t speak for those kids, but I know how that would have made teenage me feel.  Maybe even grown-up me.  Ashamed.  Embarrassed. Angry at myself for allowing such vulnerability.  I’d feel irritated with myself for believing that when someone asked how to help, it meant they really wanted to.  I’d be fearful, because I’d opened up and shared some of my secrets with people I don’t even know.  I felt a sense of camaraderie, but maybe those kids will just use my secrets to make fun of me now.  I’d wonder why anyone even asked for my opinion in the first place.  I’d feel let down, and  foolish for giving myself permission to believe that someone might want to help me out of the situation I’m in.  And I’d lose a little bit more hope that there might be someone out there that cared about me.

That’s a really good idea, but I have a couple of concerns.  Let’s talk about how we can overcome them, or compromise, to make this happen for our kids.

I was a brand new leader when I got called to the service desk to talk to a customer who’d asked for a manager.  He’d made an honest mistake, and in turn, voided the service plan on his new camcorder. He was respectful, but I could feel his angst growing.  I went to my mentor, and asked what I should do.  According to the policy, the guy was out of luck (and like $1200).  My mentor countered: What do you want to do?  When I said I wanted to give the guy a new one, he said, “Do it.”  He taught me that sometimes what the policy says, isn’t the right answer.  He taught me to look for a way to say yes.  That was almost 30 years ago, and I still remember that lesson.

So what if a kid scanned that QR code and said he was feeling suicidal?  Isn’t that what we want them to do?  Who cares that they’re reaching out to their peers instead of a ‘licensed professional’.  They’re reaching out!  My generation has a lot of strong opinions about the ones that follow us, but some of us really don’t want to burden ourselves with finding a way to help them through.  It’s easier to hide behind a policy than it is to challenge a policy maker – that’s a lot of work.  In nursing, we say: What’s the right thing to do for the patient? That day, I wondered why no one said: What’s the right thing to do for these kids?    

30 years ago, my boss was trying to help me find a way to say yes to taking care of a customer in a retail store, but that day in the school library, we couldn’t find a way to say yes to the life of a child.  That may sound dramatic to some, but those people have never found themselves sitting alone with their laptop trying to decide what to write in the obituary for their 17-year-old son.  The one who couldn’t find the hope in tomorrow, and wasn’t brave enough to ask for help.  The one that was always smiling, because he didn’t want to burden the people he loved with his sadness.  The one who felt alone in his hopelessness.  What if that kid scanned the QR code?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top