In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Florida last week, there has been much hand-wringing, blaming of parents, and teens taking charge. Everyone is asking why all this is happening and coming up with solutions ranging from the rational (tighten up gun regulations, get rid of assault weapons) to the irrational (arm all the teachers, ban all video games, blame all the parents). I've done my own fair share of guesswork, to no avail.
I can't for the life of me come up with a good answer to "why." Parents only have so much control over a child's nature and behavior, especially as they age. I've seen fantastic kids come out of homes with atrocious parents, and vice versa. Kids are sneaky. When I taught high school, it wasn't unusual for kids to have 2-3 phones on them at any given time - one sanctioned by the parents and full of goodness and light, and one or two more cheap, untraceable Tracfones they used for their real dirtywork. They had multiple social media accounts under different aliases and e-mails - one shared with parents, the others for more...teen-agery use. These were GOOD KIDS who, like all kids, resist adult intervention into their lives, and do some really, really dumb stuff. Unfortunately, that dumb stuff is forever documented and posted online, but that's a whole other issue.
I was thinking about the kids in school right now. My oldest child is almost 17. She was born just a few months before September 11, 2001. She has never known a world in which terrorism isn't at the forefront of everything. She has never known a world without technology and social media. She has never known a world without a 24-hour news cycle. She has never known a world without copious school shootings reported every year. Multiply that by millions and millions of kids just like her, and you have a whole mess of kids about to graduate from high school who are angry, scared, and ready to fight. I think there's a reason why the whole strong-teen-rises-up-from-the-dystopian-hopelessness-and-subverts-the-dominant-paradigm-with-peace genre is so popular, and why we'll see some real change once these kids come of age.
I think what these kids experience is incomprehensible to us old folks, who still remember with nostalgia the days of our unfettered "Lord of the Flies"-style childhoods in which we rode our bikes everywhere, played in the woods unsupervised, and were able to leave our worries at the door of the schoolhouse. Today, kids can't escape. There are threats to their well-being circulating constantly on Snapchat - real or otherwise. There is constant news of death, destruction, and dire economic circumstances. Expectations in school and life are unrealistic. No wonder a record number of children under the age of 18 are on medication for anxiety, depression, and insomnia. They live in a constant state of what I call earthquakiness - an unsteady, shaky existence that can be shattered in an instant. This way of life is unprecedented and unsustainable.
Thankfully, I think we'll see a real shift when these people become men and women capable of affecting change. There are rumblings of uprising; a rising realization that, while the adults are clutching their pearls and crying WHY, their peers are dying at the hands of other kids in senseless attacks brought on by fear and helplessness. I read an unfortunate attack on a well-spoken young man who had the audacity to question a senator at the CNN town hall meeting. Some adults were calling him disrespectful; I say GOOD. FOR. YOU. I teach rhetoric to my students, and was so impressed with the ethos, pathos, and logos he employed to make his points. Since when is it disrespectful to question the status quo? Oh yeah - Nazis. Of course, that's hyperbolic, but you get the point. Hearing my daughter and her friends, who are such articulate people about to leave high school and venture forth into their lives, I have hope that they will do what the adults who are SUPPOSED TO PROTECT THEM will NOT do (for fear of what, I do not know - losing political clout?) and start insisting that guns are more difficult to purchase, start insisting that people stop treating each other like subhumans, and start insisting that we stop attacking each other simply because we are different.
So I say to these kids, go forth! Lead the way! Show the old fogies how it's done. And I'm sorry we've failed you.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.