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Guest Column - What we want to say

March 07, 2012 - Olivia Shumaker

Review Intern

On Monday, February 27, the PTO hosted Dave Opalewski, one of the leading grief recovery experts in the country, to speak to Lake Orion parents about suicide prevention. Obviously, I am not a parent, and as a student, I was prepared for Opalewski to go through the usual suicide prevention routine: thank you for having me, this is a tragedy but we can fix it, always take your kids seriously, blah blah blah.

Mr. Opalewski's presentation struck me, though, as some other presentations have not. What struck me about this presentation was that Opalewski, despite having been in education longer than I have been alive, said precisely what kids want to say to their parents, but fear will go unheard. In short, why can't we let kids be kids?

When discussing depression, Opalewski brought up a number of phrases not to say to a depressed or suicidal individual, among them an evil little phrase: these are the best years of your life.

I am an Advanced Placement student with a solid group of family and friends, but quite frankly, I am loath to think that these are the best years of my life. Many (a.k.a. most) nights I have hours of reading and note-taking, with no time for TV, hanging out with friends, or really any kind of relaxation. It is nose-to-the-grindstone, and then (hopefully) I go to sleep. Is that the best I will ever see? I'm a pretty balanced kid, but even I don't want to hear, "These are the best years of your life."  

More striking still was when, going through a list of how to help, Opalewski reprimanded parents not to try to fix the problem, because the adolescent knows that they cannot fix it. Thank you to Mr. Opalewski for explaining to parents something that frustrates teenagers on a regular basis: adults acting like they have every answer.

Parents, we know that you do not know everything, just as you know that we do not know everything either. Pretending to know everything says the same thing to us that it says to you: you are not really listening to our problem. Our problem is irrelevant to you. Even if it is irrelevant, the feeling is bitter all the same. This in mind, it was heartwarming to hear Opalewski tell parents to take their kids, and their problems, seriously, even if they seem ridiculous.

Equally heartwarming was his call for parents, when trying to turn things around, to stop trying to live vicariously through their children. Granted, parents are more than within their right to pull the "we know best" card if their child is abusing drugs or sleeping through school, but the fact is that kids do not dream of the same things their parents did.

The pressure on so many kids now to impress their parents by being the next Matt Stafford or Adele is massive, and more often than not can never be satisfied. Why, then, is it such a crime for kids to make mistakes? Rather, why do today's youth feel like the world will crash down on them if they make mistakes?  The reality is that mistakes are part of the growth process, and sometimes kids need to make mistakes so that they can learn from them.

Returning to my glee at Opalewski's call to let kids be kids and learn from the error of their ways, I was profoundly proud of Lake Orion that night, as a full auditorium of parents sat at rapt attention and listened respectfully to what a total stranger had to say. Thank you to Mr. Opalewski for telling parents what we wish we could say, and thank you to our parents for being willing to listen. With this cooperation, Lake Orion will, in my opinion, be more than able to turn these tragedies around.

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