by Mitch Lehman
Our annual visit to Southwest Florida at this time of the calendar year offers a valuable opportunity for reflection. The particular location has little to do with the exercise: I happen to love this corner of the planet, though most Californians openly harbor disdain for the place due to the climate, geography or some other particular prejudice they often freely declare. The most important part of the equation has to do with simply getting away, and we all know in this age where we are virtually tethered to perpetual connection by our phone, computer or both there is nothing simple about it. Are we so insecure that we feel we will cease to be relevant if we aren’t texting or posting every single waking moment? We can only answer that question for ourselves. Whatever the case, it’s all about isolation, not location.
The recent school massacre in Connecticut has frequently popped into my head while I’m busy strolling through the Everglades, smacking golf balls into alligator hammocks (one errant tee shot this past Monday ended up next to a rattlesnake), or relaxing on our breezy lanai. Whenever the tragedy enters my thoughts, it’s impossible to imagine the horror experienced by that entire community.
“This was truly a place where you would believe ‘it could never happen here,’” one resident said into a news camera.
“We must never let this happen again,” preached another, for the moment apparently forgetting those same words were spoken the past several times something like this has happened, until those declarations and promises eventually fade into the fog of our everyday lives.
The “it could never happen here” ship has long since sailed, especially when you consider the way we pretty much as a nation are raising our children. The current generation of parent seems perfectly content to hand over the emotional care and feeding of their offspring to social media, and it’s hard to believe the result won’t be more Sandy Hooks and more Columbines before there are less. The basic tenets of socialization honed in the sixties are pretty much the same ones needed today, yet they are consistently abandoned while our children create alternate personalities on-line, play video games that desensitize the killing of fellow human beings and receive vital feedback on important aspects of life from perfect strangers. Positive and negative behavior receives the same benign response from parents and peers and young people in crisis grow to not understand the difference between the two. Or more importantly – and potentially more dangerously – care.
I am the director of a summer camp on Catalina Island and each year, we create a theme we hope will embrace the goals and direction to hopefully crystallize the experience. As we approached this past summer, a frantic ‘AAAAHHHH!’ summed up best my feeling about the plight of the modern teenager. My own daughter had just finished her senior year of high school and endured the dreaded ‘college search,’ tips for which we offer weekly here in The Tribune. She certainly had it better than most: her mother is a college counselor at a local high school and she had already determined her course of study. She was accepted into the school of her choice last December and the experience was still nerve wracking, anxiety provoking and overall, unhealthy.
Yes, I know these trials are necessary to prepare our young people for adulthood, but this chapter was downright debilitating for some who stressed over the subject well into the month of March. During what was designed to be a fun, educational trip to Italy over spring break, more than half of her dozen classmates who were along for the ride stressed over their college acceptances, called parents back in the states to check the status of their applications, and spent ten days pretty much preoccupied with angst.
“No civilized nation, if given the opportunity to start over and create an optimum culture, would ever treat their young people the way we do in the United States of America,” became my catchphrase for the year. A large portion of our local community thrives on the current educational climate – San Marino’s real estate community actually stands astride it – but I hope we haven’t lost a sense of balance somewhere along the trail. It seems as if we must now “package” our children to show their best selves – a side of their personality that often doesn’t even exist – in order to gain acceptance into the best schools, clubs and careers. The specious reality offered by social media only encourages the charade. But we cannot be surprised – not surprised at all – if the collateral damage from by such institutional dehumanization results in more Sandy Hooks and Columbines. So desperate are some of our young people for fame and notoriety they can no longer tell the difference between the immortality gained from earning a Gold Award than blowing away a study hall. Either way, you’ll live forever on-line and besides, Girl Scouts are boring. The American Medical Association recently launched a study to determine a link between Facebook and depression in young people. In the fabricated on-line world, many apparently don’t feel they measure up to social standards and expectations that really do not exist and the results can be fatal to themselves and/or others.
All we at the San Marino Tribune have asked from our elected officials in the past fifteen years are swimming pools and soccer fields.
A local school board or city council candidate’s single-most important criteria for receiving an endorsement from The Tribune is and has been a promise to explore options to create a recreation center and find a way to wedge a couple more soccer fields onto our crowded footprint. Based on the reaction we have received from many in the community, one would think we were endorsing medical marijuana dispensaries and strip clubs. More than ever, our young people are desperately in need of balance in life and it is the responsibility of the adults to provide it for them. We will never claim that things as simple as a gym, pool or soccer field will answer all the questions. But here’s hoping that late next December I’m pondering the glory of shots fired on goal and not the horror of those fired into classrooms…
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