Responding to some comments/emails on cutting/music/teenagers [Updated]
Let's revisit yesterday's post about cutting.
Michelle Malkin has updated her post and all her anecdotal evidence that cutting is on the rise is buttressed by quotes from people who are using the "today's pop culture is leading us down the path to hell" tactic.
It's the same thing with blaming video games when a kid goes on a shooting rampage - there had to be some problems there to begin with if the kid thinks it's ok to mow people down with a gun. One does not watch an interview in which Christina Ricci talks about cutting and says "gee, that sounds like a great idea, where's the knife?" If it's an idea that appeals to someone, there's a reason. And the reason generally isn't Hollywood or music or wanting to be part of a fad.
Also, I never said that cutting isn't a problem because it's been going on a long time. I was just pointing out that it is not a new phenomenon. The problem with sounding the alarm bells and calling it a new fad amongst teenagers who listen to emo music is there will be a Reefer Madness reaction by overzealous parents, educators and moralists. There will be lists passed around at PTA meetings that say things like "If your child is wearing dark clothing and listening to Taking Back Sunday, she's probably a cutter! Go search her room for razors and call in the special forces!" And of course, that's exactly what most parents will do. Just like in the 70's, when every kid who sat in his bedroom and listened to rock music for hours was most likely a drug addict, in the eyes of those who are supposed to be the experts. And no one ever talked to their kids about it then and no one is talking now. Instead, it's send them off to the psychiatrist (in the 70's it was "rap sessions" with a social worker), medicate them and send them to their rooms.
Self injuring is a coping mechanism. No, I am not an expert on this subject, but I've read enough and talked to enough cutters - going back to the 70's - to have a little understanding of what the thinking process behind it is. And here's a theory for you to chew on - maybe cutting is so prevalent among teenagers today because so many of these kids are growing up with no coping skills whatsoever. This all goes hand in hand with the self esteem movement and tendency of modern parents to never want their children to have to feel disappointment or failure. From cooperative games where no child ever loses to the dumbing down of fairy tales, from the banning of Dodge Ball to the PC way in which kids are instructed to handle conflict, they have been raised to think that everything will be handled for them, every fight will be mediated and nothing will ever hurt, this generation of kids has been raised - for the most part - to think that every little problem will be taken care of for them and no one will ever be allowed to hurt them or cause them pain. Now these kids are teenagers and they don't know how to cope with pain, anger and sadness. And maybe that's why cutting is more of a problem now than it was in the past.
It's not the music. It's not Angelina Jolie. It's not the internet. Sure, the internet has made it easier to find fellow cutters. But don't think that years ago these girls weren't getting together in the school bathroom or some local hangout and talking about it.
It's so disingenuous to pass blame for our kids' problems onto Hollywood, the internet, music, movies and video games. I think that's what bothered me most about Malkin's column - it was devoid of any real substance or research and what she did write was sort of a condemnation against Hollywood and emo music. She says that parents and educators are concerned and want to get the word out, but then she quotes parents and educators who want to pass the buck. It's the culture of today. It's the lack of God in schools. It's everything but what it really is.
What about the parents? When does anything that's wrong with kids today become their fault? When do the "blame society" parents stop shoving their kids into the arms of therapists and start talking to them on their own? When do they stop pointing at books and movies and start looking in the mirror?
I know my kids aren't perfect. They've had their problems and they will continue to have problems because growing up is a hard, long road and there will be mistakes and missteps. That's how you learn. You let your child make their own mistakes so they learn how to rectify those mistakes, how to cope with their losses and how to grow from each experience. And you talk to them about it. You have open communication. You make them feel at ease with you. Don't be judgmental. Don't tell them their music choices suck and their clothing choices are stupid. It may seem like trivial things to you, but they are major issues to a kid and when you belittle their clothing and music, you belittle them. Listen when they tell you their heart feels broken and don't trivialize high school relationships. You may think they're silly and unnecessary, but your saying so doesn't make your child's very real pain go away - it just makes them want to internalize it. Don't be dismissive. Don't be passive. Look at them when they talk. Let them know you're listening. Find some common ground with them.
These are ideas that were passed on to me by parents wiser than me. I took them to heart and I pass them on to anyone who will listen. And when things go wrong - as they always will in life - we sit back and think of what we could have done differently instead of looking for someone outside our home to blame.
So my kids listen to emo music. I don't put the idea in their head that this music will make them depressed or lead them on the road to suicide and they most likely won't think that. When I was their age and listening to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, my parents never once shrieked that my choice of music would lead me to devil worshiping and suicide. They just closed my bedroom door and went and listened to their hip-shaking Elvis, who never did lead my parents to certain doom like it was foretold.
My kids are the product of a "broken" home. I've been divorced for eight years. Both my ex husband and I have remarried. It hasn't been easy on any of us, but we've managed to - together and apart - raise our kids to the ripe ages of 12 and 15 without them yet heading into a life of crime or drugs or therapy because of our divorce. It saddens me when people try to throw a guilt trip at divorced parents and blame them for the ills of society. Whenever a negative teenage fad is announced in the press, the hand wringing starts and the accusations are thrown around - I bet at least half of those kids are from divorced homes! The high divorce rate is to blame for everything! My kids are not without the scars of divorce. But who are you to say that they wouldn't have the scars from living with a bad marriage, either? I suppose this is another topic for another day, but it was addressed in the cutting post and I just wanted to touch on it.
I'm sure this post is clumsy and disjointed, but this topic kept me up most of the night and I wanted to answer some of my critics from yesterday as well as expand on some of the things I wrote about.
I'm going to take some deep breaths now and move right back to talking about video games and tv themes.
And I meant to make a comment about Malkin claiming Taking Back Sunday as one of those dangerous, cutter-supporting emo bands (knowledge she gained through a cursory glance at a cutting message board). TBS is one of my favorite bands. I can't come up with a single song that would set off alarms that maybe they're in some secret underground emo cabal trying to get kids to harm themselves. Maybe, just maybe, the kids on that board who like TBS just, you know, like them. Maybe one has nothing to do with the other. Ya think? Is it possible that sometimes the music one likes has nothing to do with what's going on in their lives? I'm listening to Nick Cave's Murder Ballads right now. Alert the authorities. Or don't.
And Ilyka has more here.