Open Letter to Teenagers

As I’ve raised my kids, I’ve become more and more aware of an activity that frightens me to my core. And no, I’m not talking about my kids coming of age, realizing they don’t have to listen to me anymore, and moving out. (Although that is somewhat scary.)

There is something of a disorder that I’ve come to see in a lot of teenage kids out there — girls, mostly — and that is what is known in the lexicon as “cutting”. Now, to the brazen, jaded souls of the internet, this is a pitiful cry for attention from spoiled teenagers; I’ve seen the comments on various websites. And while other kids and even some adults can easily dismiss this in such a fashion, as a person who has seen this up close and personal, I’m affected a great deal more when I hear about. Especially when it concerns kids that are friends of my kids.

I don’t want to get too personal and mention names or anything because the families that have lived and continue to live through this have enough to deal with. But I wanted to take a moment to address it here in an effort to reach those few kids out there who partake in “cutting”.

DepressionTo the uninitiated, “cutting” is the act of using sharp instruments to inflict mostly superficial lacerations to the skin on one’s own arms and/or legs. the motivation behind this, as I’ve come to understand it, is that these kids feel as though they’re locked away in a pool of their own problems and feel like they have no one to console in. This is truly a disorder that I suspect most other countries don’t have to confront — a true “first world problem”. In my formative years, I can’t think of anyone who did this. But it seems that the current generation of kids out there have increasingly sought out this form of combating stress rather than confronting it in a more constructive manner. And it’s to these kids that I wanted most to write this post. And if you know anyone in your life that can benefit by reading this, please encourage them to read the following.

Understand that you are not by any means alone. In the current world of live-action snap judgments and instant information at your fingertips, you are, without question, within arms reaching of getting in touch with someone who more than likely understands to some extent what you’re going through. I also know from talking to kids who’ve been through this that you feel like no one wants to listen to your problems. I can say, in complete honesty, that you don’t need to fear this. In all likelihood, you are utterly surrounded by people who would be willing to let you unload on them when you need to. And even if there’s a only a single person in your life that fits that description, talk to them. Let them know what’s occupying your mind so fervently that you feel as though it’s a never-ending train of fear and anxiety. Regardless of what you may believe of how silly, confusing, disjointed or otherwise horrifying you believe it will sound coming out of your mouth, I assure you that once you’ve allowed it to escape into the open air you’ll feel a great deal better having rid yourself of the feeling of having it bottled up inside of you.

Who can you talk to? I always start with parents. They are, after all, the people who have brought you up in this crazy world. Don’t be afraid of upsetting them or making them angry because we parents, underneath it all, want nothing more than to keep you safe. Some of us have a silly way of showing it, but most do not. Something you need to remember is that they, too, were once your age. And they’ll most likely remember what it was like to be that age and the seemingly never-ending train of hormone-induced brooding. You never know — they may still be contending with it and have a few pointers for you. You can also talk to counselors or teachers at your school. Keep in mind that these folks went to school in how to deal with kids of all ages.

Barring that, if you feel as though you can’t relate to adults, talk to your friends. I know it may be embarrassing or even intimidating to open yourself up and show your vulnerabilities, but friends have this funny way of recognizing when those they care about need their support. Just imagine for a moment that one of your friends approached you and told you that they felt overwhelmed by everything going on in their life and need someone to just listen for a while. Wouldn’t you?

Above all else, you need to think about this: For as much pain you are feeling, not only inside but also the pain of cutting yourself, I guarantee there’s at least one person in your life that would be at first devastated if they found out how much you felt you had to keep from them, but then immediately attentive and supportive of you so that you won’t have a reason to do it anymore. These are your friends — to some an extension of your own family. And they don’t want you to feel like that and will go to the ends of the earth to help you feel better.

A last note to the parents…

If you read the above, I hope I was able to convey how personally devastating this must be to a kid. And while it’s perfectly natural to be angry, hurt or ashamed, recognize that this is, more than likely, not any fault of your own. It’s not a personal failing of anyone, and to direct blame will only exacerbate the problem. You need to take the time and let your kid vent. Try your best not to offer advice because, from my experience, the kid’s brain has been rifling through self-medicated advice for a good deal of time. Above all else, they just want you to listen so that they can begin to exorcise the personal demons they have built up inside. They will know when they’re ready to hear your words of wisdom, so it’s very important to recognize that moment. Reassure them that you love them no matter what. And while it may be difficult to understand how some of the problems they face may seem trivial to you, they’ve been storing them up like a pressure cooker for a long time. And if you don’t feel as though you can handle this on your own, explain that to them. Offer to bring them to counseling but realize that they may not look upon this as a favorable option, but assure them that counselors exist for the sole purpose of allowing people to let go of their problems when they feel as though they can’t deal with them on their own. And, if necessary, seek your own counseling, so that you can better prepare yourself to deal with these very real, and very damaging, issues.

I’m sorry if my post was a bit too dark or touchy-feely than what you’re used to reading from me. But I’ve heard too many of these stores, and seen too many healed scars on the forearms of beautiful young women who have their whole lives ahead of them to keep this to myself. I want nothing more than to give them the chance to air these seemingly overwhelming storms of emotion so that they don’t hurt themselves, and in the process everyone who cares about them.