One of my former students came to visit me this week. He had a rough adolescence, but is now thankfully on the other side of it. We worked closely together during his tougher times, and we're still occasionally in touch.
He came by to say hi, and also to say thanks. He said, "My life was really going another way before I came here. I really don't think I'd be here today if not for this, if not for you."
What a gift to hear that, to be part of his healing process.
It feels a little weird to share. I really hope it doesn't come across as self-aggrandizing. I was just one of many supportive adults in this kid's life, joining his parents and helping to connect him to other professionals who also helped him work through his challenges. And as I've said to him many times, he's doing all the work.
I'm inspired to share because I know there are many, many teens who suffer, who dread waking up in the morning because they don't want to start their day. I want you to know it doesn't have to be so hard. There are many ways forward.
The kid I'm referring to came out of a high-performing school where lots of people cared about him and tried to help. It wasn't the right setting for him, and their help wasn't helpful. In fact, despite the best efforts of talented and caring people, the environment was actually damaging for him.
He was completely uninterested and disconnected to his assignments. He had negative and hurtful peer relationships. e began to self-harm, and worse. He dreaded going to school every day and was sometimes immovable. It was a very dark time for him and his whole family.
In their desperation, his parents decided to look for other options, and to take him out of school.
This is not a common response, because as a culture we believe deeply that school is the only way forward. We believe that people absolutely, positively must get through the gauntlet of high school for any hope of a successful future.
I want you to know that this is not the case. There are many ways forward, and many examples of teens and families who have successfully chosen other paths. There are people and programs across North America to support you in these alternate steps. You have choices. School is just one of them.
If your teen is struggling and miserable, please look for another option. I want you to have the conversation I got to have this week. I want you to hear from a now healthy and happy young adult, "thank you for helping me to change my life."
Catherine Gobron is Co-Director for LightHouse Personalized Education for Teens in Holyoke, MA