Heal The Children

>     The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a three page article on a local high school student who in an attempted suicide, jumped 9 stories from the bedroom window of his family’s apartment and survived the fall. With potentially fatal injuries, he endured 89 days of critical care hospitalization and has recently been moved to a rehabilitation facility. Miraculously he is on the mend. He will live, although the long-term effects of his injuries may not be known for some time.
    As a survivor of attempted suicide at age 23, I have written about the topic in prior blog entries, most recently in the entry “Appointment in Life” about my presentation on the topic to 500 high school sophomores in New Jersey. What shocked me in reading the Inquirer article was the statistic that 1 million high school age children attempt suicide each year. It is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages 10 to 24.
    Thirty years ago a psychologist and friend, Linda Marcoccia, observed that historically, no society that “abandoned” its children has ever survived. At the time, she was remarking on the astounding number of runaway children in this country. Now that number is matched by those trying to kill themselves.
    Something is terribly wrong.
    I think the children are like the “canary in the mine” analogy. We should look at the runaways and the attempted suicides as an “early warning system” that an environment insufficient to maintain Life is unfolding.
    What has gone wrong and what do we do about it?
    I can only speak to the present day culture of the United States since that is where, and within which, I live (and am raising a teenage daughter, by the way). There are, no doubt, apparent factors gone awry both within the nuclear family and within the society-at-large.
    On the home front, too many parents have abdicated their responsibility to acculturate and educate their children to unsupervised technological creations. It started with television, the technology of choice during the latter half of the 20th century. And while television had its programming pluses and minuses back then, the minuses pale in comparison with the programming of today. To this, add PC’s, cell phones, text messaging, ipods, iphones, and whatever “advances” are on the horizon and you have the basic ingredients for the requisite alienation that is the underpinning of depression and suicide.
    I’m not saying this is the cause. Or even the root cause. After all, I tried to commit suicide during the relatively less technological period of the 1970’s. What I am saying is that as you multiply and compound the factors that create separation and alienation, you also increase the likelihood that more and more people will be unable to cope. At some point, our humanity is subsumed and obscured by the demands, and particularly the pace, of technology. 
    In the broader view, our values have been askew for sometime now. We have as a nation forsaken, if we ever fully valued at all, the stories, examples and extraordinary accomplishments of creative individuals and advanced societies that exemplified the best of what humankind is capable of creating. We teach the advanced sciences and encourage brutal levels of competition at the expense of history, culture, values, ethics, inspiration, kindness, charity, and love.
    The effects of our misguided aspirations can be seen in the 2.5 million runaways and attempted suicides annually.
    Children start out in life unencumbered and unrestrained by social constraints. As the grow, however, they take on more and more of the values and goals of their family and society-at-large. I think what the children are trying to tell us is that the quality of life we are modeling for them holds no attraction. What they are experiencing and feeling is too far removed from what the heart and Soul aspire to.
    They simply don’t see the point in staying.
    I have always been a firm believer that when the student cannot understand the teaching, it’s the teacher’s failure to communicate and inspire, not the student’s failure to learn.
    So, too, in Life.
    If the children are, in fact, our “canaries”…then they are signaling that we are failing at modeling by example a life worth living.
    Starting today, take every opportunity you have to replace expediency with genuineness, winning with allowing, and acquisition with simplicity.
    And know that as you make these changes, the children are watching.

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