We are a week out from celebrating Thanksgiving; and a week ago, my hometown of Santa Clarita experienced a terrifying and devastating school shooting at one of our local high schools. We mourn the loss of three students (two victims and the shooter) and our naivety of thinking it wouldn’t happen here. Like everyone, we are left with questions of why and how this could happen. Each day since, we hear from survivors and learn more about the shooter who essentially not only killed himself but took the lives of two other people. Piecing it together, the reasons are no clearer and I suspect will never be. In the end, the one most important question will remain. How do we prevent this from happening in the future?
I think one thing we can all conclude is that teenagers who perpetuate such horrible acts like this are not in a rational state of mind. Whether we find out they were depressed, angry, had a troubled home life or all of the above, these kids were just plain mentally unstable at that time.
We ask what can we do to prevent this from happening again. Some say change the laws and others say offer more mental health services and programs. This conversation about solutions has been going on forever with no end in sight. And frankly, it’s frustrating. So, what I’m asking myself and my fellow teens is what can we tangibly do NOW – as in today and everyday – to prevent this? What can we ask of ourselves, our parents and adults around us to prevent another tragedy?
To start, we can take better care of ourselves and others. By no means am I minimizing the need for our society and adult citizens to take proactive action; and I’m not placing the responsibility on our teen shoulders alone. However, I am saying we can and should take control of our own mental and emotional health and look out for the well-being of others as well. Teens, we need to keep an eye out for ourselves and our classmates (and not just your friends). Parents and adults around teens, you need to be more alert, aware and educated about our youth’s psyche and challenges because apparently, our society and culture is failing us right now. Teenage suicide is now the SECOND leading cause of deaths for teens ages 12-18 (CDC’s WISQARS)! We’ve had 78 school shootings this year (more than double from a decade ago). The fact is our experts can’t conclusively say why school shootings and teen suicides are on the rise but we as American teenagers going through it can speculate better.
We are living in a time and society that is focused around working harder or smarter to succeed and living up to an image we or society has for ourselves. What this means in simple terms is that we are overwhelmed and stressed during a time where we are going through significant changes. Our bodies are changing, our mind is expanding, our opinions and thoughts are jumbled with an abundance of information, messages and technology coming so fast at us that sorting thoughts and emotions seem impossible. With all this noise and society’s expectations blaring louder and louder and the unrelenting trapped schedule of school, homework and for some of us extracurricular activities or work; it’s hard to navigate and figure out who we are and what we want as individuals. It’s already a confusing and volatile time for us but throw in personal issues like a death, illness or poverty. Well, it just might get so confusing, and you might feel so much pressure that you think about ending it by killing yourself or lashing out at others you perceive are the cause of your unhappiness.
What we all need to do is take a moment and breathe. Save and schedule some time to think, pray, mediate or sit in silence. Remove ourselves from everyday pressures and technology. Spend quality time with loved ones who can talk and guide us through our emotions, thoughts and life’s challenges. Carving out time for mental health breaks may seem hard. As a senior in high school, I know all too well time and resources are limited. But we can do it! We at least need to try. So, I’m going to suggest we start small and suggest one thing.
Sit in gratitude. I woke up this morning and am grateful that I’m alive. I’m grateful for the warm comfortable bed I sleep in every night. I’m grateful for my mom, my dad, my sister, my friends who are safe and sound in their homes. I’m grateful for all the homework and my busy life because it means I live in a country that affords me opportunities. When you feel gratitude, it’s impossible to feel unhappy. You can take your first waking moment or the moment right before you fall asleep to think about what you are grateful for. Or you can write them down. Create a gratitude journal that you can always look back on when you are feeling down or overwhelmed and it will remind you of all the wonderful things in your life you’re thankful for.
Today and everyday – know that you are loved and appreciated. I love you. I thank you. Have the happiest of Thanksgivings.