This column originally appeared on Feb. 17, but is being republished at the request of readers. Many missed the original because a heavy snowstorm canceled or delayed delivery of the newspaper.
An open letter to adolescents:
Last time, I talked about some of the stresses you are living with – specifically, the relentless pressure to achieve.
Many of you have told me the pressure you feel is constant, and in the process of trying to be better than you are, you feel alone and isolated.
I am worried that you live in an environment that is not conducive to nurturing the growth of your souls. Despite concern by your parents and school administrators, the situation continues to get worse. So, if your environment does not nurture your soul, you must do it on your own before it’s too late.
What people really want is happiness. And many think that wealth and power mean happiness. Schools and parents see good grades, good colleges and popularity as your road to wealth and power. But really, wealth and power just make you rich and powerful. They don’t make you happy. They don’t nurture your soul.
Speaking of nurturing, eat lunch! I know it sounds simple, but there are lots of distractions during your already abbreviated lunch hour. The message is: Performance is the priority and lunch is secondary. Eat lunch – be kind to your body.
And while we’re talking about taking care of your body, let’s move on to sex, drugs and alcohol. First the good news: Alcohol, drugs and sex feel good. While you are high or having sex, nothing matters but your own pleasure; you are not thinking about grades, friends, or how you feel about yourself. That’s why so many people abuse these things.
But the bad feelings come back, with guilt and remorse attached.
So our instinct is to look for alcohol, drugs or promiscuous sex again to take away the bad feelings. And so the cycle begins. By now, I am sure you know that abuse of these things can harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually. I am sure you are thinking this won’t happen to you. Even if these things don’t harm you, they won’t help you.
People who look to outlets like these are people who need relief. Honor this need in two ways: Diminish the stress that causes the problems in the first place, and find relief that nurtures your soul. Remember, the goal is happiness, not just an effective way to cope with unreasonable stress.
You are growing up surrounded by wonderful technology; the technology is fun and entertaining, and it helps you accomplish many things – most by yourself. But once again, happiness – true happiness – can be found in relationships. Nurture the relationships you care about. Love who you love with great care and attention.
Everyone I have ever met who survived great adversity has said that they found someone in their lives who believed in them. It would be wonderful if that person was a parent, but it doesn’t have to be. Find your mentor – someone who wants nothing but happiness for you; someone more concerned with what kind of person you become than what you achieve.
Most of you come from families where your parents love you very much and have made sacrifices for your welfare. When they say they want you to get into a great school, make the honor roll, or become successful, they really want you to feel happy and fulfilled.
Help your parents understand that achievement and fulfillment can be very different things, and their job is to support your journey toward fulfillment. Tell them you need their faith more than their concern. That their faith will help you find fulfillment, while their concern will only help you find stress and anxiety.
Explain that their job is not to help you become who you should be, but who you truly are. And tell them to have dinner with you. Research shows that children who have dinner with parents three times a week are less likely to use drugs.
And love. All living beings need to feel loved – not simply to know they are loved or to say they love someone; they need to feel love. Think about it: If you can’t feel your parents’ love, maybe they can’t feel yours.
Think of all the people you love, and open your heart to them. You don’t have to do anything or say anything. Just when you think about them, open your heart and let yourself feel love. More than anything, love nurtures your soul.
If you agree with these ideas, organize, unionize and demand meetings with your teachers and administrators. Discuss these issues in class – even have an assembly and hopefully generate some working groups.
Take all of these suggestions, or take none of them. But please take care of yourself.