December 14, 2011

Making a Difference

Filed under: Christmas Time!,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 11:52 am

As I’m sure anyone involved in making any change in the world wonders, I wonder if we’re making much of a difference. I wonder if our youth rights messages are resonating with people, are getting them to at least rethink their previous assumptions about young people. More importantly, I wonder if the messages we spread truly help anyone, truly stop or directly lead to stopping much of what youth suffer.

I recently watched this viral video of the depressed bullied 13-year-old with the index cards. All I could think after watching that was how much I wanted to give him a hug!

On one hand, it’s nice this is getting the attention it is, not being written off as just “typical” teenage depression (though I’m sure many are still seeing it that way). Of course, that could be because he’s supposedly gay (or at least that’s the implication) and his tormentors are his classmates. If his tormentors were his parents, the reception would be much different. But I’ll cover that another time.

There’s so many like him, though. Any sexual orientation. Whether the tormentors are classmates or family or whoever else. And they are trapped. Because we say you cannot leave your situation until you are at least 18. No matter how terrible it may be, we tell you it’s not really so bad and that you’re young and don’t understand. We say you can’t decide for yourself that your home or your school is a terrible environment, but that it’s only terrible if it meets such standards for those with power over you, and hell, even then good luck doing anything about it.

There was a girl on NYRA’s forums a few years back who was being horribly abused by her father, that even trying to call Child Protective Services did nothing for her because they found nothing wrong. And we heard about this knowing we could do nothing for her. I even fantasized about driving to where she was, picking her up, and taking her home with me just to hide her. But I’d be the criminal. I wouldn’t be seen as rescuing an abused young person with no other options. I’d be abducting some poor man’s child (read: property). He’d be seen as the innocent victim, his treatment of his daughter unnoticed and uninteresting.

And there are so many like her, with no options. They must continue to attend schools where they must fear for their safety, be harrassed (by students AND teachers, mind you), and if their grades slip or they want to drop out, they are seen as losers who are giving up on themselves. They must continue to live with their dangerous parents, who often hate them for who they are, for not living up to the parents’ ideal, and suffer for it. And if they try to run away or seek any other living situation, they are seen as delinquents, as spoiled brats (because it’s not possible a teenager could have a problem with parents that isn’t about not enough allowance, right?), as throwing their lives away.

We can try to change minds. We can try to make changes where we can, when the right opportunity comes up. But in the end, this all continues, perhaps whether we’re saying anything or not. Maybe we’re seen as out of touch. Maybe we’re assumed to not truly know what youth are like. Maybe we’re assumed to not know anything just because we’re not parents of teens (because apparently only by being a parent can you truly know anything about young people, that actually being a young person isn’t good enough). Or maybe we just aren’t saying it loud enough or widely enough, that the lives of young people aren’t trivial, that, yes, their schools and homes can be horrible places for them and they are perfectly capable of judging this for themselves.

NYRA mostly just tackles some of the policies around these things, as opposed to direct personal advocacy, though we’ve done that here and there. As we grow, it’s certainly something that we’ll strengthen. But I still can’t help the feeling, the wonder, of whether we’ve made anyone’s lives any better. We’ve had a few members that felt their lives changed for the better by getting involved with us, and that is something! There’s just so many more out there. Those who haven’t found us. Those who, despite what they suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to be loving and supportive of them, probably don’t like our ideas. Probably don’t truly realize they do not have to live through what they are living through. Probably figure there’s no way out anyway and there’s not point wishing otherwise. Probably don’t even recognize it is wrong because they’ve never known otherwise.

I wish I knew. I know making the kind of youth rights change that we seek takes a VERY long time, but there are many youth who cannot wait, yet no one can help them. They can’t even walk out the front door without being stopped. And even if they could, the rest of the world doesn’t want them, sees them as too young, tells them to go home. Save jumping through emancipation hoops, and even then, they wouldn’t be able to find a job most likely or anywhere safe to live unless they have helpful friends. And there are so many homeless teens out there. While there are services for them, it’s not enough, and they should be more able to earn a living and find a home, that it shouldn’t be a choice of abusive parents (who probably threw them out) or the streets (and if there’s a curfew, they’ll just be handed back to those parents). I sometimes feel like the best we can do is just tell people this is bad, and hope the people will agree and not treat teens so badly. But they can easily and do ignore us. And no young people are helped.

But I suppose rallying over and over how harmful this system is for young people should eventually gain supporters and enough of them to finally change this. That too, however, will take a very long time. Until then, the suffering continues. The suffering continues and is still publicly assumed to be because the parents didn’t buy their son an iPod.

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