A Room with One Door: What Hannah Baker Needed

 

Like so many other individuals, I’ve been watching the Netflix version of the bestselling YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. Everywhere I go, people seem to be discussing it, and on Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of teens starting posts with, “Let’s play Thirteen reasons Why”.

For those of you who haven’t seen this, it’s basically asking their Facebook friends to comment their name. The person whose post they are commenting on, will then comment “no tape” or “tape and here is the reason why”.

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As a psychologist, a parent and a YA author, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. Then yesterday, I saw a post listing “Twenty Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child“. Things like, “fight their battles for them”.

This got me thinking about numbers. “Thirteen” Reasons Why.  “Twenty” Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child.  I thought of the “One” door I think so many kids today think they have access to, and that door is suicide.

Adults have to face the fact that schools today aren’t like the schools of ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Times change. We have the internet now. We have Facebook Live and Snapchat. We have a society where girls are publicly and privately sexualized, where girls are legally told that their work is worth less pay than that of males, where minorities and gays are legally persecuted and where schools hang anti-bullying posters in the hallway but then, so often, tell kids to toughen up and be less sensitive when someone bullies them.

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Years ago, I watched a documentary where a beautiful nine year old boy killed himself because he didn’t know how to do his math problems and he feared his teacher was going to humiliate him in front of the class for doing the problems wrong. He took a belt and hung himself.

I’ve seen a lot of comments about the fictional “Hannah Baker” and how she should have been tougher, should have stood up for herself more, should have tried more to stop the various individuals who were bullying her.

But here’s the thing. So many times kids, and adults, find themselves in situations that they can’t stand to deal with any longer. They may tell their parents, tell school officials, but so often nothing is done, nothing changes, and they find themselves in a room with one door.

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They hate the room. They hate how they feel in it. They hate how they are treated in it. They try and try and try to survive in that room, but eventually they just can’t anymore and so they open the door and walk through it.

The thing is, suicide shouldn’t be their only option.

Adults all know that middle school and high school are temporary. Once you’re out of them, they seem so incredibly insignificant, and as time goes on, they become less and less significant. High school is kind of like a root canal. While you’re gong through it, it might seem unbearable, but once it’s done and over with, you rarely if ever think about it.

But like Einstein said, “Time is relative.”

Just remember being little and your parents telling you it’s still two weeks until Christmas. Two weeks felt like forever.

Adults can look back and see those four years of high school as just drops in the bucket of time, but when you’re there, when Facebook posts ping on your phone even when you’re trying to sleep and you know people are constantly judging you, high school can feel like a life sentence. And there’s no parol. There’s no early release for good behavior.

I don’t have the answer, but I know as a society, we need to create a second door and a third and a fourth. We need to LISTEN. We need to help kids fight their battles because they are kids. Yeah, we all want to teach self-reliance, but wars aren’t fought by individuals; they’re fought by armies, and in the stressful world we live in, sometimes kids need an army behind them.

Whether you like the Netflix show or not, the reality is that suicide amongst teens is up 600% from 1950.

Hannah wasn’t guilty of selfishness or lack of creative thinking. She was trapped in a room and only saw one door. It’s up to us as a society, as parents and friends and teachers to create more doors. Or better yet, let’s bust the walls down.

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“This Generation”

Hi Everyone,

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been busy working on rewrites of a novel that will be going out to publishers soon and it’s this novel and some other things that have inspired this post today.

To start off, last week I saw a post on Facebook about ‘this generation’.

 

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Needless to say, when the term ‘this generation’ is used, it’s probably not going to be a post about how studious, respectful and wonderful today’s youth is. I’m not a teenager anymore, but as someone who once was, and as someone who writes for teens and tweens, this really annoys me!

First off, generations are made out of people and people are individuals. Everyone has their own story, their own triumphs and tragedies. Not everyone born in the sixties or the seventies or the eighties or nineties are the same. Yes, we are all parts of the eras we grew up in, but we didn’t grow up in the same houses or neighborhoods, with the same incomes or religions or talents or handicaps. We’re all different and grouping a whole generation of teens together is just plain wrong.

Secondly, I happen to like this generation of teens. As a teacher, they make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. I see them struggling in a world that isn’t like the one I grew up in. When I was a kid, bullies weren’t that common and if you had one to deal with, you knew once school was over for the day, you were free of him or her. Today kids are never free — not with cyber bullying.

When I was a kid we had fire and tornado drills. We would never have imagined someone coming into school with the intent of killing as many of us as possible just because they have a desire to kill.

The point I’m trying to make is that teens don’t have it easy and most of them, if they feel entitled, it’s only because they want what’s fair, like a decent education and healthy food to eat. Most are grateful for the good things in their lives and most are much more attuned to what’s happening in our world than we ever give them credit for.

So to all the teens out there, when I first wrote this novel, it contained letters to you. Now, these letters are written by me, but I wrote them trying to imagine what God would want to say to the youth of the world if He or She decided to drop a line every once in a while. (I prefer to believe that God doesn’t have a gender one way or the other because…well…God created the universe and somehow genitals just shouldn’t matter to a being capable of such a feat.)

In the various rewrites of the book, the letters were taken out, but I’d like to give them to you all the same. So starting this week I’ll be posting the letters — the love letters from God.

Now, it may seem presumptuous of me to think that I can speak for God, and I’m not trying to. I’m simply imagining what the Almighty might want to say, or is already saying, but in our crazy, hectic, and sometimes angry, societies, we’re not hearing.

God gets a pretty bad wrap today and to be honest, I’ve struggled with sorting through the bigotry and downright evil that is paraded around our country in the name of religion. These letters aren’t about religion. They’re about spirituality. They’re about you and the fact that you mean something. You are something.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m hoping the letters bring you. Peace maybe. Guidance…well, we’ll see. Mostly, I want them to help each one of you know that while you are part of a generation, you are a part of something much bigger than that. You are a part of a gallery of art that is beautiful, rare and utterly magnificent. You matter.

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Dear Teens, Here’s Logan.

Well, it’s the middle of July and that means the store shelves are loaded with back-to-school items. I always cringe when I see these because it means the end of summer is fast approaching. That means school.

Now for some people, school is great. It’s a chance to see friends, learn new exciting things, maybe get a break from home and family, but for others, the end of summer is like having their probation revoked —  it’s time to go back to prison.

I confess, I always loved learning; I still do, but I always hated school. As I’ve established in earlier posts, I didn’t fit in. Luckily for me, I went to a small school. People thought I was strange, different, but no one bullied me. No one called me names or criticized me because my life was about ballet and not about baling hay.

Times have changed a lot. I’m not that old, but since 1950, the rate of suicide amongst teens has gone up 600%. Is there just one factor causing this? Nope. There are a lot of causes, too many to fit in a textbook let alone a blog, but bullying is one of those factors and the beginning of school is the beginning of hunting season for bullies. In todays world, bullies have a new weapon: the Internet.

I wish I had a solution to this problem. Anti-bullying T-shirts and school assemblies are a start, but like my daughter, Sophie, said, “The anti-bullying shirts are red so your blood won’t stain your shirt after the bully hits you.” Oh, the wisdom of a six year old!

Logan Fairbanks, many of you have probably heard of him from his youtube videos, isn’t a teen. He’s only eleven, but he did something very brave to stand up to those who are using the Internet as a way to bully. Logan decided to face the mean comments head on, by reading them to viewers.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for him to read the ugly, mean comments, but by doing so, he took the power away from those how seem to find pleasure in hurting others. There’s no easy solution to the enormous problem of bullying, but I wanted to introduce you to Logan because of his bravery and because of his willingness to let others know that they’re not alone.

Logan is not alone.

You’re not alone. You matter.

Are there teens or young people you think should be celebrated here? Do you have a story you’d like to tell about your own experiences? Let me know. We’re in this together.