Guys, I can’t even. I *can’t*.
When I was a teenager, there was, for want of a better word, an epidemic of suicides at my high school. Oh, the shock! Those poor young people, their whole lives ahead of them! On and on, the weeping and wailing…with the dark pioneer countryfolk suspicion all around that anyone who can’t handle the cocoon of high school would never have lasted in The Real World where Life is Real Hard.
(The rural identity where I am from, at the place where the northern plains meet the northern Rockies, can be simplified to “the cowards never started and the weak died along the way”. A lot of adults felt sadness but no pity for kids that weak, because they remember that, at the same age, they were about to be shipped off to Vietnam or Korea or France or Belgium — folks where I’m from live a long piece — or that they were about to spend long war years scratching it alone with little ones. What in hell makes people give up before the real battle begins?)
Well, I was in high school, and I knew. I could have told them, but they didn’t ask. And it was before the internet, so my voice went as far as my journal and my loved ones. Lest ye forget:
Small children have to face small challenges successfully or they will not be prepared for the larger challenges they will face as larger children. Mastery of those small things will give them confidence to tackle bigger things. If they are not afforded small challenges, their stunted problem solving abilities will sabotage their ability to care for themselves as adults.
If they do not learn to tolerate distress when they are little, they will not be able to tolerate distress when they are big. And they will have more powerful expressions of that intolerable distress.
When I was a kid, I learned how to build a fire, manage a fire, extinguish a fire, and what to do if the fire went out of control. My next sibling was taught that matches are dangerous and never to touch them. Who is safer? Who is more confident? Who is better protected from this hazard and better prepared to face it? The kid who has been guided, taught, supervised, and exposed to consequences.
Well, guess what? Social situations are no different. Anyone who thinks kids don’t need manners doesn’t understand that, among other things, good manners give a kid tools to maintain poise and self-mastery when in uncertain social waters. Train your kids, test your kids, support your kids. Don’t shield them from awkward or challenging situations, or from difference in peers, or from threats. Better a kid should face those challenges under a loving wing as a little one than after age 12 or so, when peers have more weight than parents.
I am sad for those quiet kids who grew up in the deep country who couldn’t handle switching from a school of ten kids in eight grades to a three-year county high school with 1500 kids. I am sad for the Queen Bees of the country schools who turned into little fish in a large pond. I am sad for kids like me, who turned to voracious overachievers in the struggle to stay afloat, tying our personal value to grades. Because we were the kids who punished ourselves by not eating for three days when there was an A- paper instead of an A; we were the kids who begged for plastic surgery at age 14; we were the kids who kept the car running in the garage when the folks were at the Elks for the evening and never woke up the next day. We matter just as much as the kid who took a gun to school. But if that kid had stayed home and simply taken himself out, the act would have been too common to care.