Teen: “My sadness is infinite and beyond your understanding.”
Teen: “Also, I need money for lunch tomorrow, we’re going to Chipotle. And I need a Patagonia vest.”
Parent: “What happened to your 7 North Fa-”
Teen: “FINE. I’ll just freeze.”
Grandparent: “Where’s my belt?”
If my little psycho-drama strikes you as ridiculous, count yourself lucky. For many parents in Edmond, the theme is all too familiar. It must be frustrating to work hard to provide for your kids only to find them sullen and unhappy. If a parent in inner-city Detroit told their child they couldn’t have money for Chipotle, the kid would likely respond, “What is a chip-oat-lay?”
Ironically, it’s not lost on many of these kids that the world is full of others who are not so lucky. For them it can be difficult to justify why they have so much and others so little. And of course, there are always others who will happily remind kids from affluent homes and communities of all their unearned advantages. “Ohhhh, you’re one of those Edmond kids.” The instant judgment from peers can be truly uncomfortable. The purpose of “Ohhhh, you’re one of those kids” is to delegitimize and reduce the person to nothing more than the sum of circumstances over which they have no control. This leads to stereotyping. I can get this same reaction out of the students of Edmond’s excellent schools simply by informing them that I attended Heritage Hall. They never pass up the chance to judge someone as even more privileged than themselves. That young man from Detroit probably prefers not to be stereo-typed by his either, a slight I will rectify by making up the fact that he frequents Qdoba.
Even teens who want for nothing seek a life story filled with drama and pathos. Above all, it needs to demonstrate, beyond all doubt, that you were most certainly not one of “those kids”. This is also where some of this hyper-emotionality comes from.
I want to take a moment here to assure you that I would never dismiss the feelings of my clients. It doesn’t happen. Unless I’m certain that I can get away with it. Which is a lot. Like, most of the time. It’s not that their emotions are fabricated. They are very real, but they are also greatly amplified for effect. And all the dials all go to 11. They turn to social media for support with their troubles, to talk to others who relate. This should help but, more often than not, it exacerbates the problem. What they often find is a passive-aggressive game of one-ups-man-ship for Most Screwed Up. It’s a (carved up) arms race. The sad fact is that kids we need to worry about the most are the ones least likely to call attention to themselves. The ones trumpeting their misery seem eerily proud of their distress, don’t they? I’ve taken to asking these teens if they would even accept a magical, non-narcotic cure that would erase their misery just to hear them turn it down. Often, kids seek to transform a run of the mill existence into a white-knuckled struggle with inner demons. If I fail, no one can really blame me. But if, against all odds, I succeed, my triumph will have been anything but a given. You know, like it was for all "those kids” I went to high school with.
Quinton Ellis is a counselor at Edmond Family Counseling, your community mental health agency for 41 years. Please visit our website edmondfamily.org to read other articles by Ellis and others on this and other issues.