Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It Get's Better--With Skills

I'm at it again trying to engage people in a dialogue online. This never turns out very well for  me--maybe this time will be different? Anyway, this morning I clicked on a tweet that lead me to Towleroad. There was a brief blog post about an 18 year old young man named Lance Lundsten who recently killed himself. It got me thinking--and got me posting.

Dan Savage has started a project called It Gets Better. He writes "Many LGBT youth can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So let's show them what our lives are like, let's show them what the future may hold in store for them." This is a good thing, right?

As with most things, yes, sort of.

Things can get better--and often do. They don't get better on their own. Waiting around for middle school or high school to end--in and of itself--isn't going to make anything better. I worry that for many young people watching the video clips on Savage's website are getting the wrong message. I worry that young people are hearing that their lives today are hopeless.

I'm sure you remember being young. Teens aren't known for their ability to look into the future. Teens aren't known for their ability to wait. By design, the project is telling young people that they have to do the two things they are developmentally least equipped to do: wait and look to the future.

Looking forward is helpful: it helps teach youth about the possibility of the future. It also helps teach youth the whole notion that there is a future and that it's something one works toward. There is more, however, that we need to do.

We need to teach youth skills that they can use in the here-and-now. Emotional resiliency is a set of skills that can be taught. We need to teach youth about opportunities they have now for community--opportunities they have now to feel supported and loved. As hopeful as the It Get's Better videos are, they don't provide youth with these skills.

We need to show youth images that other youth create--images and lives that are filled with joy, excitement, and life. We need to let youth speak about their own experiences. For many, it's already better now. For many youth the adult vision of "better" is radically different than the youth vision of "better."

While it's important to mourn those who have killed themselves, we need to do more. We need to celebrate those who have not taken their own lives. We need to celebrate the creative vision, passion, and energy of countless young people that goes relatively unnoticed.

It's probably a good idea to actually ask youth what they want and need. As an aside, I read an article once about LGBT proms. It seems that mostly LGBT proms exist for adults who didn't go to their own proms. Most youth responding to surveys say they are going to their regular high school proms--and that they think that proms for adults who didn't get to go to their own proms are great for--you guessed it--adults.

The biggest burden for change--and making things better--isn't on the youth. The biggest burden is on adults. We need to speak up against bulling. We need to create an atmosphere in public spaces that it's not okay to be a bully--it's not okay to be hateful to someone else because their opinion or thoughts are different.

We need to create a world in which we can have meaningful dialogue about different--and connect and grow through those differences, not divide and segment.

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