“I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m big, you’re small.” The antagonist in the 1996 movie Matlida, Ms. Agatha Trunchbull, ran a tight ship a Crunchem Hall Elementary School. She told Harry Wormwood children are all mistakes and she was glad she was not ever one.
Teens hurt. In fact, since the advent of “latch-key” circumstances, they often hurt alone. Adult listening skills wane as we satisfy ourselves with quality time spent shuffling our younger teens from activity to activity. Keep them busy. Then, we give them gas money once they earn their license and our moments of conversation take on more of a “Cats in the Cradle” experience. I remember parents often telling our youth ministers they were glad someone would be talking with their children about the more sensitive issues. Talk about outsourcing.
When adults are faced with those uneasy moments of helping think through many a teenagers moral dilemma, conversation gives way to edict, “I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m big, you’re small.” We or some authority figure, maybe the pastor, becomes the “big other” through whom we cajole our teens to go through when arriving at either the right decision, or the right way to “feel.” Cauterizing emotions we are not sure how to help through creates a sure catalyst for cutting or another self-deprecating habit. Ironically, they engage in an attempt to feel through the numbness of silent suffering.
The other extreme is to consider a teen fit for the complexities he or she will face. We leave them to their devices. The weight of the consequences when dealing with complicated moral dilemmas is often too much. Especially, when the hands-off approach is followed by a guilt creating tirade for making the wrong decision. This is just another face of Ms. Trunchbull.
These matters tend to be intensified in deeply religious contexts. Expectations tend to set the agenda rather than relationship. Driven to produce of our children particular kinds of persons we stymie the persons they could well become. And, they hurt. In silence. Suffering. Who will listen?
This is part 2 of a series reflecting on my recent presentation on the subject of teen depression and suicide from a religious perspective. The talk was titled, “Ms. Trunchbull, Facebook, and Referentialism: Thoughts on Teen Depression and Suicide from an Immigrant.” Part 1 is here.