Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Talking to your middle school son about suicide is not easy, explaining that everyone is special therefore deserving of respect and love was much easier. #hugs

I'm a Dad.     As the father of three boys ages 19, 17 & 13, I am well aware that the life of a teenager is tough.  My boys are all very different from each other with various skills, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Parenting didn't come with a manual for each child, therefore, Kristin & I do the best we can with discipline, advice, love, structure, and guidance.   Sometimes we think we get it right, and sometimes we change our tact the next time or maybe with child number two. In the end, parenting for us is all about love and our children knowing that they are loved.

This week I needed to sit down with the 13-year-old to discuss the suicide of a classmate from Peachtree Charter Middle School. (Just typing those words is shocking to me.)

It wasn't an easy discussion for either of us; my son didn't personally know the boy, but the conversation about why someone would kill themselves was heartbreaking as my son talked about bullying, rejection, being made fun by your peers because you are not like them. He talked from personal experience about how it felt to be called out as different, how dumb rumors were being spread on social media and hateful comments were being shared.

He then talked (actually beamed from ear to ear) about those friends on his football team who stood up to the negative commenter on social media on my son's behalf. They supported him and empowered him, as my son was now part of a team.  My son and I talked about how these events made him feel, what lessons he learned from them, and how these lessons are related to how he treats others. It was a great conversation, and in the end, he knows he is special, he is loved, and everyone he meets is just as special and should be loved just the same.   My kind soul of a 13-year-old now has this character strength of empathy that is wise beyond his years.

Today I watched a video recommended by education writer, Maureen Downey of the AJC Get Schooled column, which shows a high school girl explaining the challenges of going to high school with disabilities and chronic illness. High school is typically hard or challenging for most, but for this young lady faces challenges that many of us couldn't imagine and she does it with grace and pure strength.  I recommend it to all, but parents you may want to share it with your teenagers.

Back in 2015, the City Council held a City Town Hall meeting at Dunwoody High School; therefore knowing how rough some high school students had it with various pressures, I wanted to find a way to let them know that I care. I wanted to personally connect with them and in turn, have them connect with one another on a level that social media just doesn't work.

I offered them a simple gesture of kindness, I looked them in the eye, asked for their name, and offered a hug. I told them that we as human beings are all equals, that they are important and that they matter.

As a Dunwoody City Councilman, I treated those many high school students as one of my sons and in retrospect, it may have been the most important lesson those Dunwoody High students learned all year.

Looking back on the subject of hugs - I still remember a hug someone offered me on the Peachtree Center MARTA platform.   It was wonderful.

Hugs to all those in need and I will happily dispense if one is desired - just reach out.   Thanks


AAB College said...

Thank you for sharing

Max said...

"Hugs are free," typed while noticing tears in my coffee.

Family and community are critically important at times like these. We all grieve for this family.

Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story John, you help put things in perspective.