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Imagine looking into the eyes of a teenager, and wondering to yourself if they were capable of killing themselves, or of killing somebody else. Think about the weight of these thoughts and the potential toll of relentless worry on your spirit.

Now imagine that this was your job, to figure out what sort of destruction a young person was capable of. And that your bosses, and the parents of your students, and everyone who watches the news, looked to you to know the truth of children with certainty… and to provide them with explanations and fixes.

Given today’s school climates, and the heartbreaking news inundating our eyes and ears about teenage tragedy and violence, this is in fact the job of many caring professionals. For school counselors specifically, and for teachers, our jobs today are about far more than improving school statistics… which is burden enough. Our jobs are in fact about seeing, and preventing, the dark potentials of every child.

As much as we’d all like to think that painful and scary truths won’t find there ways to our children, or that we’ve sufficiently armed our children with the strength of character to withstand media blitzes and peer pressure… it’s simply that different a world than when most of us were kids. Schools and educators can no longer solely focus on curriculum and content. Schools and educators can no longer spend their evenings burdened only by thoughts of passing and failing students and of grading papers.  Whether we like it or not, teenagers, every one of them, are capable of destroying their own lives, or those of others… and there is no one explanation or stakeholder to blame. All any of us have the efforts we put forth in the lives of the kids in our lives.

These aren’t words people want to read, and as a school counselor, these aren’t words I want to write… but our children deserve, and desperately need a more heartfelt commitment from adults in positions of influence. One of the most powerful forces feeding the destructive behaviors that we wished weren’t so common is the propensity of adults to look away from what is scary. Our urges and wants and needs to see our children as beautiful spirits filled with only wonder and promise can not cloud our vision to the darker possibilities. And our fears of our own inadequacies as parents, administrators, counselors and educators can not continue to fuel our rampaging blame, which serves only to lessen the sense of responsibility of the person doing the blaming.

The truth is there is no one explanation. There might not be one gene that causes a person to go on killing sprees. There might not be a clear link between parenting styles and self-destructive behaviors. We might not be able to know with any certainty that childhood trauma leads to homicidal or suicidal tendencies. And we may never be able to rest completely at peace knowing our children will be safe from harm.

But what each of us can do, quite simply… is to be better in the roles we’re in. Better educators, better parents… better adults in the lives of children. Less afraid of the different world our children live in, and more humble and transparent in our communication with them.

We can role-model and demand compassion… so our kids don’t become bullies.

We can cultivate our children’s voices and promote in them quiet confidence… so they don’t become targets or victims.

We can expect humility… so our children don’t fall into the traps of arrogance and entitlement.

And we can stay tethered, always, to the idea that the achievements we want to see from our children… will only happen if collectively, we start to value character and substance more than accomplishment and show.


These will not be cheery words… because this is not a good day. Children’s lives have been cut way too short in a manner way too heartbreaking.

Every day… I choose to risk losing a child to suicide. And it drives my vigilance.

Every day… I choose to risk missing the warning signs of a child wired to injure or kill. And it feeds my attention.

Every day… I choose to be near the very real, all too frequent, tragic stories of children. And I persist anyway… as does every individual who has chosen to commit themselves to standing with children.

Frustratingly, those who do not work in schools or with children do not, or can not, fully understand the breadth of our days… and I don’t mean this as an attack. I mean it as a plea for others to try harder to understand the weight we carry… because it is a heavy one… and as articulate as educators and counselors are… there simply aren’t words to describe the depth of our connection to our jobs and to the children we get to know.

Yes, we laugh and feel the pride of watching young people achieve… and yes, we enjoy our summers off and extended weekends.

But there is a cost for the laughter, pride and time away from our jobs.

Teenagers that we know do take their own lives… and young adults, recently out of high school, that we once knew, do decide to return to their schools with loaded weapons ready to take their own lives after they’ve taken the lives of others.

To most, children are simply beautiful children, with the potential to live amazing lives and accomplish amazing things… but to us… to counselors and educators, we also have to see each child as a potential tragedy, with the potential to do monstrous things… and we carry this fear with us always… because we are expected to prevent these tragedies by all those not doing what we do.

No, our days are not absent of the glory of being a part of the small and large triumphs of children… but the rewards of our efforts, in the smiles of our students or in their improved grades… never completely silence the fear of witnessing their failure…

or of their destructive actions…

or of their death.

We heavily know, every day, that the more children we get to know, the more stories of defeat we’ll also witness… and this breaks us down and inspires us… every day… and will continue to do so until our retirement party.

Every one of us… teacher, counselor, principal, bus driver or aide… in our small interactions, carries with us, every minute of our day, the knowledge that we might not catch the child who is falling.

Every one of us… in our small interactions, every minute of our day, carries the weight of knowing that each word we speak, or don’t speak… could fail to prevent tragedy.

And yet we  punch our time cards every day… without hesitation… and often with the knowledge that others look at us as “babysitters” or “enablers” or “lucky bastards for having 2 months off every year”.

And we wish everyone could understand the toll our chosen jobs take on us.  How strong… AND spent… we really are.

Parents and families leave their children with us… trusting we’ll keep their children safe… without exception… and when the news of school tragedies finds our eyes and ears, our hearts not only break for the beautiful, innocent children and their families… but they also break for the loving, compassionate, determined adults who put their souls into caring for children who are not their own.

We are grateful for our jobs and the amazing people we work with.

We are grateful for the wonder that children bring to our lives.

We are grateful for the trust that parents place in us.

And we are grateful, especially in times like these filled with so much sadness, for the strength and resiliency to continue to be champions for our children…  undeterred by the judgments of others, or by those children we could not save.

Posted: September 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

it’s an “emotional management” issue that people have labeled as an anger issue.  the problem is, we’re just not as angry as we often look. but we are hurt. we are overwhelmed. we are scared. we are ashamed. we do feel powerless. we do feel neglected, rejected and abandoned. and we are lonely and we do feel more hopeless and helpless than we’d like. and instead of being taught how to face and feel our real feelings, we reflexively just flip them in our heads and hearts into anger… which is why people think are problem is with anger, and not the real stuff underneath.

disguising our real feelings as anger has become a habit for those of us who you label as “angry”. instead of being taught that all emotions are natural and actually useful and beautiful, we learn to ignore them, deny them, repress them, or drown them…

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