Sometimes, You Just Need to Listen

After a community tragedy, a suggestion on how to help our kids process their thoughts.

I've worked with teenagers for over 13 years now, and if I've learned anything it's that whenever something happens to one of their own, teens take it very hard. There is an internalization of tragedy that the teenage years magnifies by a thousand, and the need to explore that internal struggle is vast and immediate.

So that's why my phone blew up yesterday afternoon. Lots of people needing someone to talk to. Or, more accurately, someone to listen.

Really, in a situation like this - when a classmate is murdered, perhaps over something as trivial as shoes - the best thing any adult can do is listen. And not just the way we sometimes do, where we nod our head and say "Uh-huh" a lot while waiting for a break in the monologue during which we will impart our vast, adult wisdom. I mean really listening. Because when you listen, you hear some amazing things.

The uncertainty of life. The tenderness of hearts. The capacity to ask the big questions of life. The idea of mortality.

When you are really listening, you hear that our students aren't asking for us to make the world perfect; they're asking us to help it make sense. They want to know that there is comfort to be found inside the madness, to know that the big, bad world won't swallow them whole. Profundity - even when genuine and truly insightful - isn't as helpful to them as sincerity. And when you sincerely listen, you earn the right to share the profound thoughts later on down the road, when they can really absorb them.

Last week, the tragedy in Newtown opened up all sorts of conversations to be had with our kids about everything from guns to mental illness to safety to death. Yesterday, those same questions came home to Grayson, and were magnified in the death of Paul Sampleton.

I won't presume to tell anyone how to parent, because you know your kids far better than I do, but if I may offer one suggestion to those who are uncertain about what to do, it would be this:

Give your kids a chance to talk, and listen to what they have to say. You'll know where to go from there.

Good luck with the conversation.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Amy December 21, 2012 at 01:59 AM
My 15 year old had a class with the victim. He says life as he knows it has changed. December 19th, 2012 marked the end of his childhood. He keeps trying to remember what he said to Paul the last hours of his life. He saw Paul that day at school. I listen to him, and I say everything is going to be OK, but it's not. He fully believes it's a mistake and he will see his friend at school after winter break.
Jason Brooks December 21, 2012 at 02:04 AM
My heart breaks for you and your son. Several of the students I've talked to share that sense of un-reality, that Paul will somehow be at school if they hope hard enough. His life has changed, and it will not be the same again. Time will make some things more bearable, but as you said, his childhood has effectively ended. And like Paul's, it was far too soon.
Sharon Swanepoel December 21, 2012 at 03:11 AM
I am so, so sorry for this family and community. Just when he was about to start his life.


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