I was an average teenager. I was angry. I was depressed. I felt alone. I couldn’t talk to my parents because there was no way they would understand me. I had friends, but we all kept our problems to ourselves. I wouldn’t talk to my teachers or guidance counselor because they wrote me off as a problem. The only person I was violent towards was myself. I would cut my flesh to ease the anxiety. I often refused to eat so I had something to control in my life. My coping behaviors became obsessions and then addictions. It took me years to finally open up to others about my problems. It took someone who paid attention.
Now, I’m a mother of two beautiful daughters. These two parts of me are now my world. But the world I am bringing them up in has changed. I was graduated elementary school when the Columbine school shooting happened. The tragedy made me terrified to begin high school. Back then school shootings happened, but much less frequently than today. I was bullied, alienated, and felt like a social pariah. Unfortunately now school shootings are happening much more frequently, and that is absolutely terrifying. So I need to see school violence dissipate by the time my children are in school. I need them to feel safe in school, as well as at home. I want my children to grow up with an amazing support system. Remembering how I was as a teenager I will understand if they won’t open up to me about everything in their lives, and I’m okay with that. As long as they have someone they can talk to. Grandparents, aunts, uncles or family friends. Someone they trust and that will always be there to listen to them. Of course, my husband and I will always be available but again, we’re parents. What do we know?
Erahm Christopher has spent years looking at school violence, reasons behind it, and working to inspire others to make more positive choices. He’s spent countless hours researching, talking to students themselves about why they feel this kind of thing can happen, and keeps happening. When I met Erahm, I was freshly out of high school, full of anger and resentment, with little to no self-esteem or confidence. We met because we were both passionate about inspiring others. Making people understand what others are going through without judgment, hate or bullying. Being a victim of bullying myself, he and I had a lot to talk about, and I had a lot to say. He shared his own experience and talked to me about what he was working on. He talked to high school students across the nation, and every single one of them said the same thing, regardless of race, age, or economic background: “nobody ever listens to us.”
Christopher wanted to make a difference, to make people understand what others are going through, and to show how each of us can be a positive influence on each other. So he wrote and directed a film called LISTEN. But a film itself is not enough to make people understand. So instead of a theatrical release of the film, instead of having it stream on Netflix, Christopher took a different approach. The film is shown in schools across North America, and is followed by a powerful discussion where students and faculty alike share their experiences, and talk about what they can do to help others who are struggling. Christopher is a strong believer that the power of listening uses four senses: seeing, hearing, thinking and feeling. His goal with the film was to target each of these senses from the viewers. To make them feel. To listen.
I personally really wish I had seen this program while I was in high school. Had this been around when I was a teenager, maybe it would have changed my outlook. I could have been inspired to make more of an impact on others. I could have reached out to someone – anyone – and get the help I needed before I embarked on the downward spiral of lashing out against myself. I could have become the person I am today much earlier on.
Most recently, seventeen people lost their lives on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. CNN calls this “another unspeakable tragedy”. Why is this unspeakable? This is something people should be speaking about. To quote Zombie by The Cranberries, “When the violence causes silence we must be mistaken”. While school shootings used to be shocking, tragic and rare occurrences, now they are becoming commonplace. Rather than having the huge shock factor when heard about in the media, it’s tragically become “oh, another one happened”. Something is wrong here.
So what’s happening? Why is there such an outbreak in school related violence these days? We can lay blame on the usual suspects: bullying, angry music, violent movies, drug and alcohol abuse. But is that really what’s going on? People need to point the finger and those are the usual targets. However, bullying is nothing new, nor is angry music and violent movies. Underage drug and alcohol abuse also happens frequently. So we need to look beyond these problems to find the root of it all.
I know that my emotions get flowing every single time I hear about school shootings. Fear. Anger. Sadness. What kind of a world do we live in where going to school can result in murder? I hope everyone feels this way. This needs to change. The hate needs to stop. We need to find more positive influences in our lives, rather than negative. We need to spread love, not hate. In the film Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore, there is an interview with Marilyn Manson. He is asked about what he would have said had he talked directly to the kids at Columbine. His response is “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”
I finally had someone listen to me. I was able to open up and get the help I needed. It’s made me a better person. But it happened after I had finished high school. When my daughters enter school, I won’t be there with them, so I can’t protect them there. I need to feel comfortable sending my children to school and knowing that they have teachers, administrators and counselors there to talk to if needed. I have to know that there are people there who will always be there to listen to them.
“I never thought this could happen here”. This line is heard after every single shooting. People never think tragedy can strike their communities. But it can, and it will keep on happening until something is done. You need to ask yourself “what if something like this can happen here?”
What if it did happen in your neighborhood? What if you got the call no parent ever wants to get, notifying you that your child has been shot? What if you got the other call? The call that nobody believes could happen to them. The call stating your child was the shooter. Or what if you’re a school educator, and a student hands in a disturbing essay? It makes you uncomfortable so you take it to the principal who then suspends the student. Why not pull the student aside and take the time to talk to them? Let the students open up. Let your children open up to you as a parent, to just unload all their stresses and anxieties and depressing thoughts.
Put yourself in the parents’ shoes who have gotten these phone calls. Ask yourself the “what-if” questions now, rather than later. Make time every night to have one on one time with your children, and just talk to them about anything and everything. The good and the bad. Let them know you’re there. Make sure you don’t have to look back on your life and ask yourself the most devastating question of all.
What if I had just listened?