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Message To Teenagers: Things Do Get Better

Catie Warren is a 2009 Woodson High grad and her brother is a freshman there. Now a writer, after last week’s tragedies she wrote the following about high-school life in general on TotalSororityMove.com:

Yesterday, a student from my former high school died tragically. He was 15. Just a baby in the grand scheme of things; a young boy with his whole life ahead of him. A life filled with graduations and relationships and jobs and little ones. A life filled with happiness and joy and precious moments, laughter that makes your belly roar, silliness that makes your cheeks hurt, and love that makes your heart skip beats.

He had his whole life waiting for him. Instead, he chose to end it. His death marked the fifth suicide at this school in four years. And. It. Has. Got. To. Stop.

High school is a trying time. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a liar or someone who peaked the moment they crossed that graduation stage. The hormones, pimples, breakups, gossip, homework, sports teams, locker bays, mean girls who won’t talk to you, group projects you’ll do yourself, jocks who don’t know your name, teachers who don’t get you, and the honor courses you wish you’d never taken – it’s exhausting.

Someone took your seat at lunch, your best friend ignored you during homeroom, and you’re pretty sure you failed your Spanish test. There’s so much pressure on you.

Your boyfriend wants to take it to the next level, your coach wants you to run faster, play harder, your teachers want you to push yourself, overextend yourself. You finish school at 3, get home from practice at 7, and are expected to eat dinner, shower, and maintain some level of social existence, all while completing the five hours of homework you have due tomorrow.

You have your PSATs, ACTs, SATs, APs, IBs, and GPA, and yet somehow, someway, throughout [it] all, you’re supposed to maintain your sanity. You’re under pressure. You’re under a microscope. You’re under scrutiny. But you can’t break. You can’t succumb. You can’t give in. Failing now means failing forever. Weakness means defeat. If you’re not first, you’re last; and if you’re not the best, then what’s the point?

There are prep courses, college fairs, tours, visits, winter breaks spent doing science projects, spring breaks spent looking over flashcards and Words of the Day, and summer breaks spent reading Homer and Tolstoy and Machiavelli. Push yourself. Be better. Do better. Try harder. You’re better than that. Everything depends on this, on these four years. One slight misstep and your future is ruined. Tread lightly, kid. Don’t screw it up.

We force them. We ride them. We harp on their tiny failures and overlook their monumental successes. We expect greatness. We demand perfection. We push and we push and we push until we can’t push anymore. Until they can’t take it anymore.

We create stressed out children, harried teenagers, premature grownups. And they can’t accept it. They can’t handle the pressure of perfection, the expectation of full rides, the belief that if they fail now, they will lose this game of life that they’ve barely started.

Teenagers today have it harder than any generation before them. They’ve been coddled, fed from the silver spoon, nurtured to a fault. They received trophies for simply showing up. They’ve been called lazy, out of touch with reality, overzealous, rude, irresponsible, immature and too mature for their own good. We’re training them for jobs that don’t exist, preparing them to buy into systems that are soon collapsing and expecting them to solve world hunger, cancer and bankrupted economies.

So it’s no wonder they crack. How could they not? Between the school, family and societal pressures and normal teenage angst, what did we expect? They’re growing up too soon, too fast and too publicly. Success is measured in grades and test scores, Facebook friends and Instagram photos. They’re dealing with not only helicopter parents, but also standardized-test-crazed teachers and horrible, anonymous, online bullies. Images are Photoshopped, actresses don’t eat and athletes use steroids.

And while we’ve been debating between immunizations and cord blood, grass-fed and organic, and yoga and pills until you can no longer feel, these kids have been suffering. We expect the unthinkable, demand the unattainable, preach the impossible.

At some point along the way, we stopped letting kids be kids. We stopped letting humans be humans. We’ve lost sight of what’s important, let go of what matters. We’ve forgotten the humanity. We need to slow down. We’ve got to slow down before it’s too late. We’re making our children grow up too soon – and we’re losing them because of it.

High school is not the best four years of your life and doesn’t decide your fate. It doesn’t tell you the age at which you’ll come to peace with your nose or learn to embrace your quirky laugh. It doesn’t forgive you of past sins, it doesn’t prevent you from making future mistakes, and it is not the happiest you will ever be.

High school is high school, and, oftentimes, it’s [really tough]. Being a teenager is hard. But when you get through it, when you learn from the screw-ups and you realize you really can smile through the tears, it’s worth it.

The time has come for us to embrace the imperfections, stop the pressure and learn to live with adversity and mistakes. To stop sweating the small stuff, let our kids be kids [and] realize we’re only human. We’re all just doing our best. We’re all just trying to get by. Smile at a stranger, laugh ’til your belly aches and know in your heart that it really does get better.