A year ago, Marcus Wheeler won the State Division I Cross Country title in 15:36, a race he had not even qualified for the previous three years. A year ago he attended prom, was looking forward to graduation, and the next step in his future at Central Arizona College as a scholar and elite runner on an athletic scholarship.
This same week last year, Marcus took his life, at one of the best schools in the Valley, with a gun.
7 months later two female students in Glendale did the same, and again, warning signs flashed like big red embers on their social media.
Over 4,500 fellow students experienced vicarious trauma on those 2 days as stunned adults administered emotional triage.
Although I did not personally know Marcus, I was called by Amanda Goodman from Channel 5 to talk about how and what to look for on teen's social media if you suspect there is an issue.
Other channels did a story on resources for kids and who they can turn to if they are feeling down, lonely, or potentially self-harming or suicidal, and they posted phone numbers for students to call. While these resources are plentiful and amazing, the reality is, our kids are each other’s first resources, and then adults.
For me, Marcus represented ALL of my students, and all of our teens. Funny, awkward, going through the motions, under tremendous pressure, and just trying to “be”, trying to figure out where they fit in this big, fast paced, sometimes daunting world. Hormones abundant, financial pressure to find money to go to college, pressure to have the right girl, gear, and “stuff”.
In my quest to provide answers to parents who picked up their child from school that day, it really is quite simple.
Supervision, open communication, trust, and the ability to see kids for what they are– kids.
If you really are truly present, you don't have to dig into their phones and hover over texts, they will tell you exactly what it is they are going through– in their own way, in their own time, which very likely does not match up with your timeline.
Below is a repost of my post from last year, and this time, I am including a photo of Marcus. We have to teach kids to report safety issues. They are the first line of defense for other kids, and it is too much for them to handle on their own. If you listen closely, and look closely, their message to the world is very loud and very clear. There are many reasons Marcus’s last words were on Twitter.
Unfortunately, as adults, we missed the mark on the many beforehand.
We will host over 100 people in our community for a screening of “Screenagers”, a documentary and town hall/courageous conversation.
We will discuss how do we embrace technology for what it is? Teach kids to use it responsibly.
Unplug ourselves as families and trusted adults, and begin to really understand how the future is going to look for our youth as we move forward in a digital world that is only advancing. There are several pros to kids using social media. We just need to be focused and vigilant when it comes to the cons.
Thanks friends for your support.
Together we do make a difference in the lives of our children.