The real tragedy of tragedy is not learning from tragedy. That’s what came to mind as I read this morning about Michelle Carter, an 18 year old Massachusetts high school senior who is on trial for manslaughter. Carter has been charged with manslaughter for encouraging, pressuring and repeatedly advising her boyfriend, who allegedly suffered from depression, to kill himself. According to these allegations, which prosecutors have supported with hundreds of text messages between Carter and the decedent, Conrad Roy III, not only did Carter persistently pressure Roy to end his life, but she also helped raise thousands of dollars for suicide prevention in the months following his death. If these allegations are true, as a society, we do this family’s tragedy a monumental disservice if we do not learn from it. The question is, what can we possibly learn? Well the potential list of things is long, but here are three:
- Mental health is just as important as physical health.Unfortunately, we live in a society where more emphasis is placed on how we look, as opposed to how we feel. Ancient societies have known, although many modern societies have forgotten, that mental health informs all of our thoughts and actions. This truth does not apply only to adults – it applies equally to our children as well. We can’t ignore signs of mental health issues, especially depression, in our children. We must also question cultural norms and tendencies to shun addressing mental health as if it is something shameful that will go away if we ignore it. The reality is that mental health, and mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and every person, especially a child, deserves to have their issues acknowledged and addressed with the support of the people who love them.
- Relationship with kids important.Talk to them, not at them. Of course as adults we want kids to do as we say do. However, what children think matters, even to the extent that the basis of their thinking is wrong or misguided. For example, a child who is having difficulty processing failure can be told to stop being a baby, or they can be talked through the process by which people learn from failure by analyzing it, addressing flaws, and practicing self-determination. Let’s focus on expanding our relationships with our kids beyond that of “providers of things”. For many children, adults have become nothing more than “the people who give us stuff we want.” Our children deserve and need us to be more than that. Even in elementary school, they need us to help them navigate a dangerous and stressful world of peer pressure, drugs, sex, social media, toxic imaging, self-doubt, racism, sexism, and fanaticism of all kinds. Otherwise, someone else will step in and build the relationship with them that we have not.
- No problem in life is insurmountable. How many times have we stared a problem, dilemma, or disaster in the face, having no idea how we’d conquer it? Or worse, thought to ourselves, “This is it. There’s no way around this one…” – only to look back on the situation and realize that you were sooooo wrong? Our children do not have the experience or the frame of reference to appreciate that there are no problems or circumstances in life that are insurmountable. Unfortunately, as a society, we don’t do well at facing our issues head-on, but do much better at avoiding them, or using short-term strategies to address them. In turn, our children are not learning the critical lesson that every problem has a solution. The journey to finding it may be very simple or very complex, but it is always there.