I was distressed to see cutting equated as a new fad akin to anorexia or bulimia in last week’s paper (Indian Valley Record) for a variety of reasons. I’m probably as distressed at that as I am at hearing that just giving kids more activities, less alcohol, and more church might stem the tide of teen suicide. Until we address the underlying causes for the malaise, boredom, and voiceless feelings of our young, all these issues will still be here and increase. We can have all the taskforce meetings and assemblies we want but it’s not truly going to help those that need help until we give our young people answers they may or may not know they are seeking.
To Trina Ritter’s piece on cutting last week I’m disappointed but not surprised. I’m 43. She represents one perspective on the matter. I remember cutting from being in high school in the 1980s. I remember it being overseas in my Department of Defense junior high as well as my California parochial high school. It’s everywhere and has been for quite sometime. IT IS NOT NEW. And saying otherwise belittles those who cut. I’m sure there are some teens who are cutting for so-called attention, but many cutters I’ve known were simply numb to the trauma of suburban living and its nothingness around them and so they cut themselves in order to feel something that they weren’t getting from the American cultural and familial void.
But there are of course other pressing issues—teen suicide. Suicide is a particularly close subject to me—I’ve lost friends from this and it wasn’t because they were overly depressed, taking drugs, or hanging with the wrong crowd. They wouldn’t have come to a teen night at a community center in the first place. They died because they were artists and thinkers and couldn’t find a place for themselves in our world, which does its best to crush artists and thinkers. Our public institutions have a tendency to punish children who are interesting, curious, and inquisitive. They read too many books and go to too few football games. They spent lots of time trying to paint and draw their way to freedom, but at every turn the larger society is there to squelch their ideas as much as possible. Sometimes they have fellow artists to talk to, but often times they don’t. Sometimes they have music as solace; sometimes they don’t.
My point is—if mainstream society wants to raise awareness and save children from such things as cutting and suicide it would do well to actually stop pushing mainstream values of consumerism, team sports, and vacuous belief systems. Children are too smart for that–especially artistic children. If you’ve got a teen at home who doesn’t want to go to school because the experience is overwhelmingly metaphoric, acknowledge that. School is the one time in life we truly have no control. The state and our parents force us to this institution, which is often full of bullies and people who will not like us for being ourselves. Acknowledge that because not acknowledging it confirms to children that we don’t know what we are talking about. Let kids know that true leaders of our world haven’t been leaders because they conformed to social norms but they became leaders because they didn’t.
Arts education means learning how others dealt with conformity and mainstream societal pressure. The artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers inventors of the past are the guides for how to navigate this strange world we live in that requires us to be happy by doing what everyone else is doing.
If Plumas County is ready to be serious about stemming teen suicides and other self-inflicting behavior then it needs to invest in those children by investing in arts education and art therapies instead. Young people in this county should have access to a world of art and art therapies. Whether it’s film studies, drama, art, music, and writing courses or therapies of that same nature.
By being able to express themselves truly in their chosen mediums, children of all ages can be saved—without anti-depressants, other prescribed medications, school suspensions, and without school assemblies that attempt to raise awareness when they really just give the bullies new ammunition. Stop wasting money on motivational speakers. Spend that money on art supplies instead. A box of new crayons. A trip to a museum or a movie theater. Reading a new book. It’s really that simple.
The arts can save a child like nothing else can. I know. They saved me.