In early October I listened to an episode of Real Food, Whole Life featuring Kate Fagan, author of What Made Maddy Run and found it to be a real conversation about so many topics that bounce around in my head. So, when I found myself at the bookstore later that month I immediately went to find the book.
This post has been sitting in Draft since the end of October. And it hasn't felt like the right time to hit publish but I'm about to pass on this book to another mother so it felt appropriate to release my thoughts as I release the book. So here it goes...
I had zero expectations since it was a case of "I know how this story ends". But something I learned in reading Maddy's story is that the story is not in the ending. The story is in everything before.
When I finished the book I knew what I wanted to share was more than a Facebook post. More than a link. More than a scroll. Because these topics are more than...
The subtitle reads, The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen. Why would I pick up this book?
"According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while 7% of parents reported their college students experiencing mental health issues, fully 50% of students rated their mental health below average or poor. In other words, even those closest to college kids often have no clue how they're really feeling. " pg 111
The mental health and well being of my children is my greatest concern. Keeping them "safe" in this arena is what keeps me up at night. I am scared to death of not knowing they are in trouble. I am hypersensitive to this topic.
Already tricky years to navigate are even more so in this digital age. And I'm not just talking about social media. I'm talking about our inability to interact with each other in person. I'm talking about a degradation of connectivity in society at large. I feel as though we are the most connected a society has ever been but also the loneliest. How do I protect my children in this world?
Maddy's parents tried to keep her safe, her friends tried to keep her safe, her friends parents tried to keep her safe. The truth is all we can do is try to keep our children safe and there are no guarantees. My heart was broken by Maddy's story. On the surface she had the perfect life but it was what was beneath the surface that haunted her.
This book is thoughtful, insightful, and extremely well done. I am compelled to share some of the lessons I will carry with me...
I see so many online articles about the dangers of devices to our children and often the rallying cry is "my children are safe because they don't have social media".
We don't have social media accounts for our oldest. Not because I think this alone keeps him safe but because if at the age of nearly 40 I struggle with comparison, perceived exclusion, likes equaling self worth, and sifting through real or not real I am certainly not handing those complications to my soon to be minted thirteen year old who is just beginning to explore who he is.
And still I worry.
"Another addition to this technological whirlwind : texting and emojis. Social media and texting have something specific in common : they both allow you to easily create a version of yourself that is more palatable - to others and yourself. Texting gives the user ultimate control. A face-to-face conversation, or even a telephone call, might reveal more than someone intends or desires. Like water, verbal communication is hard to contain, easily spilling over. On text, users only answer what they want to answer and can easily end the conversation abruptly if they don't like where it's going." pg 146
There is a false security given by not simply not allowing social media. Using texting as a primary communication is just as if not more dangerous. We NEED face-to-face interaction. We are wired to be social creatures. We need to HEAR one another. This not only applies to our children but us as well.
"We have translated expressions and emotions into emojis, and simply using an emoji seems to tell the recipient that all is okay." pg 241
It is so easy to hide behind emojis. I believe we are raising a generation who lacks the skill set of personal communication both in expression and understanding. The already awkward teenage years are only compounded by hiding behind a screen.
Before we even tackle the screen or no screen debate for our tweens we are robbing them of developing fundamental skill sets that will help them navigate those tough years with overscheduling.
"Kids used to grow up in the neighborhood - on the block or in the parks, playing games with other kids. These games had rules, but the kids themselves determined them, flexing their imaginations.
Scientists have also noted a correlation between the decreasing amount of childhood free play - any play not directed by adults - and the increasing rates of anxiety and depression among kids. As free play decreases, anxiety increases. Correlation does not equal causation, but considering that free play helps kids develop their sense of self, their problem solving abilities, their ability to self-soothe, and their ability to play well with others, its not a stretch to see why scientists believe the decrease in free play is possibly affecting their mental health." pg 119
When we orchestrate every aspect of their lives we rob them of finding their footing, falling, and shaking it off while we provide the safety net against permanent damage. We are unknowingly trading skinned knees and hurt feelings for much more serious heartaches.
Kate Fagan did a beautiful job of giving insight to Maddy's story and treating depression and suicide with such a tender respect without the presumption of knowing. She had honest conversations with those who do know in order to give insight.
"We can do this, learn everything we can, how to talk to others about their pain and our own, in the hope that fewer people get caught in this same, fierce swirl." pg 299
There are no easy answers, there are no quick fixes, but as Kate says, "we can do this". I know I don't always get it right but everyday I try.