OK, here goes: my teen-aged kids have done some stuff that scared me, stuff of which I’m not particularly proud.
When I talked to other parents about it, I felt a bit better. And now that I’ve mentioned it to you, it’s bothering me even less.
The more I look into this whole surreal journey we call child rearing, the clearer it is to me that the well-worn adage rings true: everybody’s got something.
Oh, certainly there are exceptions to this. I know families who, as far as I can tell, have managed to steer clear of the potholes so many of us clunk through as our kids grow, unprepared because we didn’t, couldn’t, see them coming.
There is comfort in the affirmation we draw from our parent peers, and from living in a community that embraces us. That’s the idea behind ParentsMatterToo, a sweeping initiative involving a vast array of local entities that’s launching in Naperville in a big way this weekend.
Of course, it’s driven in part by a bona fide emergency: kids are dying from heroin overdose here. Some are dying intentionally by other means. Combined, the two unthinkable tragedies constitute what City Council member Bob Fieseler — a board member of KidsMatter, which is launching the new project — called “a once-a-month occurrence.”
Teens are struggling, no question about it. There’s a malaise of misery that’s affecting far too many young people in the community. Gina Sharp sees it every day.
The executive director of Linden Oaks Hospital at Edward said there’s been a “tremendous amount of increase” in the facility’s volume of adolescent clients. Linden Oaks serves about 150 teens every day, either in its day program or inpatient treatment. That’s good, Sharp said, because it’s encouraging the kids to learn how to manage their lives. But more is needed.
Grown-ups are stepping up to do something about that. Quite a few grown-ups, in fact.
Some are taking part in parent conversation circles, informal forums for sharing the kinds of experiences and hard-gained wisdom that are best shared with others who may be hounded by that habit we parents often indulge, a tendency to second-guess ourselves.
The idea is to normalize the journey that to so many parents feels anything but normal, so far removed is it from those days when our kids were sure we hung the moon. But the fact is, no matter what front they might put up for the outside world to see, two out of three kids will tell you their parents are the most influential force in their decision about whether to experiment with drugs or not.
That’s where those conversation circles, already drawing a more robust response than their planners imagined, come in.
“We need to do all we can to connect parents and kids, and to empower parents to feel more effective in their conversations,” said IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of KidsMatter, during a roundtable media kickoff for the new initiative this week.
It comes as no surprise that parents most frequently name two sources when asked where they turn for help when they think their kids are straying down a dangerous path: the Internet, and each other.
“The biggest part of the (ParentsMatterToo) website is an ‘Ask the expert’ feature,” said project coordinator and parent educator Diane Overgard, who added that a big plus of the pool of experts is that they’re local folk. “Their questions will be answered by experts who happen to be right here in Naperville ... psychologists, addiction specialists, school professionals.”
Clearly it doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes a city. It’s an ambitious undertaking, with plenty of moving parts. It’s not just the mixed messages that come from a culture in which we’re more often encouraged to pop a pill to ease pain than to do the hard work of finding out what’s causing us to hurt. It’s more than the myriad stressors that come with coming of age in a community acclaimed for nearly everything: the pressure to be perfect, the intense influences of digital communication, the stress of a heavily-packed schedule both during and after the school day, the competition for the best grades and biggest trophies. It isn’t the fault of the lingering perception that addiction and mental illness are some sort of human failing of which the individual and his or her family should be ashamed.
It’s all of those things. And yes, you matter. A lot.
The site can be found at www.parentsmattertoo.org.