Alfred, Lord Tennyson said: “I am a part of all that I have met.”
Like Tennyson, I feel like I’m a part of all that I’ve met. These are a few of their stories. And a few of mine, too. Enjoy.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson said: “I am a part of all that I have met.”
Like Tennyson, I feel like I’m a part of all that I’ve met. These are a few of their stories. And a few of mine, too. Enjoy.
I was not prepared for the emotional toll that accompanied being unemployed during a pandemic.
At least not in the ways I expected …
What I had not factored in was rejection. Nor in the magnitude with which it came.
Let me back up and share how I got here. Like way back.
I spent the first eight years of my married life as a stay-at-home mom, working nights for several years to help make ends meet. When my youngest started kindergarten, I joined the staff of a small community newspaper where I stayed for over 13 years. I had some underlying health issues during that entire time that progressively got worse and I worked the last five years from home.
In 2015, my husband and I decided to turn a family property into a vacation rental business. It’s located in a very rural area in northwest Missouri and we weren’t sure how successful it would be due to its location. We worked hard to build it while both having full-time jobs and raising two very active children who were still in high school. One of the things that helped was the growing popularity of the Missouri Star Quilt Co. in nearby Hamilton (Quilt Town, USA). By the summer of 2019, we had expanded into three vacation rentals and we were very optimistic about our success.
With my health continuing to decline, and the business doing well, I made the difficult decision to leave my job in October 2019.
You know what they say about hindsight… Well, 2020 was lurking around the corner and I had no idea what was about to happen. Looking back, I don’t know if leaving my job was the best choice, but I definitely needed a break. Not just a vacation but some real time away. Among my many duties at the newspaper, I was also the social media manager. I had built the brand’s online presence from the ground up and it had become all consuming for me. The first thing I did when I woke up and the last thing before falling asleep, constantly checking my phone while attending my kids’ activities and also while on vacation. I wanted it that way. I wanted our customers and followers to trust us and look to us for anything at any time. But after a decade of doing it that way on my own, I was exhausted. And that exhaustion contributed, in part, to my declining health.
So I was looking forward to a change of pace, something that didn’t require as much of my round-the-clock time and energy, and something that still pushed me but didn’t overwhelm me. I found that with our business. November 2019 was our strongest month ever, and December, January, and February continued to be great despite the winter weather.
And then COVID hit. We started getting cancellations in March and they continued all spring and into the summer. Missouri Star Quilt closed its numerous store fronts in Hamilton early on and then decided to keep them closed until spring 2021.
I was prepared for the financial stress, as much as anyone can be, I suppose. I mean, I knew not having that income would be difficult. But I felt we could roll with the punches and make it through. We’ve pretty much done that our entire married lives.
What I was not prepared for was rejection. And not just once or twice, but being rejected over and over and over again.
Let me explain.
As our upcoming bookings were being canceled in March, I had hope that things would turn around quickly. As March turned into April, and with the loss of more bookings, I began searching for jobs.
I was not the only one.
Millions of Americans were out of work due to the pandemic. The April unemployment rate increased over 10 percent to 14.7 percent, the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in history (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
We were getting by financially with my husband’s job, but I was concerned that if the pandemic continued throughout the summer – our best and busiest season – we might be in trouble. Congress had passed and the president had signed the CARES Act, which included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, so after not getting any bites at job offers, I decided to file for unemployment.
I knew nothing about unemployment. I’d never even really thought about it. I quickly learned, though, that like many things in Missouri, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations was woefully unprepared for the pandemic. It was a very confusing and frustrating time for thousands of Missourians with outdated equipment and few answers for those in need. Two months after I filed, I received my first unemployment funds (for those unaware, unemployment benefits are a certain percentage of what you used to make and last a certain number of weeks depending on where you live). During that waiting period, I had continued to apply to jobs all across the country. Anything I could find. I didn’t want to be receiving unemployment. I wanted to work. I wanted to help provide for my family. I wanted to feel I was of value to something or someone.
As the weeks wore on and rejection letter after rejection letter arrived in my inbox (or worse, I didn’t even get a response), I started getting really frustrated. Getting rejected again and again, week after week, started to take its toll on me emotionally and I slowed my process. I applied to just three jobs a week, the requirement for Missouri’s unemployment. Even still, three rejections each week for months is still a lot of rejection.
In early July, I decided to work on a book idea I’d had shortly after leaving my job. For the first couple of weeks, I was excited. I thought it was a great idea and felt it could help a lot of people.
But as the rejections kept rolling in, my enthusiasm for the book waned. My thoughts began to turn pretty negative.
“Nobody wants you.”
“You have no employable skills.”
“You have no talent.”
“You are not a productive member of society.”
“You are no good.”
“No one will want to read this book.”
And so before the end of July, I stopped writing altogether.
My husband would encourage me every once in a while to write something, anything. The thought of opening my laptop made me want to vomit. I tried reading articles about how to deal with the rejection (including ones like “Eight Ways to Cope and Rebound from Constant Rejection,” which, by the way, did not help whatsoever). Nothing seemed to motivate or inspire me. I felt worthless.
Months passed. Week after week, rejection email after rejection email, while also feeling the weight of the world and not being able to do anything about it (racial injustice, overwhelming COVID deaths, governmental chaos, etc), I finally gave up emotionally. I was not suicidal, but in late-November I decided there wasn’t much point in living. I didn’t feel like I was contributing to anything, in any meaningful way, and I was just tired of feeling so much. I hoped I would fall asleep and never wake up.
It wasn’t just the rejection that led to the depression. It was the isolation of the pandemic. I’ve only been in public twice since March (to vote in the primary and general elections). It was also realizing some people I trusted as friends weren’t really friends, which included name calling and a lot of tears. I think this past year has shown many of us that we didn’t really know some people like we thought we did. It was also the pandemic itself. I was more than ready to start building up our business again.
And, it was also another change to our income. In October, my husband’s company closed the depot where he worked and all employees were laid off. He worked a seasonal temp job for a while and some part-time jobs here and there after it ended to help provide for us. We did without a lot and scraped by to somehow pay our bills. And, thankfully, a few days ago, 14 weeks after being laid off, he received a job offer for full-time employment.
I know my story isn’t unique or even as tragic as the many I’ve read over the last 10 months. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t been evicted. I haven’t lost a loved one to the coronavirus. I haven’t had to help my children with virtual school while also working a full-time job. I haven’t had to work in a hospital or a long-term care facility, or in a school while also teaching online, or in a grocery store, or a meat-packing plant, or a morgue.
I haven’t had to deal with a lot of things others are going through. And I realize my privilege has helped with that.
But I also don’t want to just dismiss what I have gone through.
It took me longer to resurface this time from the depression. It’s not something I face regularly, but with a chronic physical health condition, I know it’s important to make sure I’m taking care of my mental health as well (knowing that you’re likely never going to get better is a constant mental battle). There’s no one specific thing I can point to that helped this time. Probably a lot of little things including baking, which I know sounds pandemic cliché, but it has really helped. It’s incredibly difficult for me to do with my chronic pain (I have to do a little and then recover for a while in bed before doing more), but it seems to be great therapy.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a slow, growing desire to start writing again, and this is the first thing I’ve written. I know it’s rough and a bit all over the place. But I think that’s okay since I’m just doing something again.
I read a phrase right before Christmas that’s been in the back of my mind since – “a whisper of peace and a sigh of hope” (Richelle E. Goodrich).
I guess that’s how I’m facing 2021. It’s not much, but a whisper and a sigh is better than nothing and more than I had a few months ago.
No matter what 2020 was like for you, I hope you can find that, too. And maybe one day, we can look back and realize it led to something more than just whispers and sighs. Perhaps greater peace and greater hope.
(And hopefully a lot less rejection).
From the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus itself to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement to the country’s rising unemployment/wealth disparity to the lack of concern for global climate change – and everything in between and beyond – 2020 has revealed the role that Disgust plays in my life.
My family was recently discussing Pixar’s “Inside Out” and who exemplified each character emotion the best.
When the discussion got around to me, my husband and 19-year-old daughter, in unison, said Disgust.
What?! Disgust?! My response was apparently even in character.
The first time I watched the movie, I loved Joy. Who doesn’t want to be her? It’s joy, after all! Happiness, delight, well-being, success, good fortune.
I worked for a community newspaper for over 13 years and wrote an occasional column which I titled “That they might have joy.”
I so wanted to be Joy. I always have. That’s the goal in this life, right? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
But Disgust? No way! I think I’ve been ashamed of my disgust, or parts of it, for much of my life. Or what I thought it meant. But in the weeks since our family discussion, I have begun to embrace my inner Disgust.
In the beginning of the movie, Joy introduces us to the Disgust character: “She basically keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially.”
That sounds like a pretty good thing.
When her parents try to get her to eat broccoli, Disgust heroically sweeps in and knocks the green veggies away.
“I just saved our lives,” she says. “You’re welcome.”
In describing the character, Jill Koss (MS, CCLS at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, TX) writes: “Disgust is impatient, sassy and sarcastic; but she is also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.” (‘That’s disgusting!’ What ‘Inside Out’ teaches us about disgust, 7/16/15, checkupnewsroom.com/thats-disgusting-what-inside-out-teaches-us–aboutdisgust/).
I love that. I am impatient, sassy and sarcastic. But I’m also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.
I care. A lot. And because I care so much, in a world that seems to be increasingly troubled, I’m disgusted a lot.
Koss continues: “Disgust in the role of acceptable social behaviors has the potential to be very important. If we teach our children there are certain values that are important, and morals to follow, they have the potential to be offended (disgusted) when behaviors opposite to their values are displayed.”
Research by University of Kent psychologists in 2016 has shown that expressing disgust can be motivated by moral concerns.
“Participants themselves were more likely to choose to express disgust when their goal was to show that their condemnation of an act was morally motivated… The findings suggest that disgust is not just an expression of an inner feeling, like nausea or contamination, but a signal that advertises a moral position.” (Disgust is way of communicating moral rather than self-interested motivation – sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161219133831.htm)
What are some of these issues that I have been “disgusted” about in 2020? There are plenty. Racism, the criminal justice system, the death penalty, LGBTQ+ rights, global climate change, poverty and disproportion of wealth, homelessness, refugees and immigrants, growing unemployment, government leaders, healthcare disparities, mental illness, gender inequality.
It’s not enough to just be disgusted, though. We need to figure out ways to use it to create change. The COVID-19 pandemic has people questioning how we get back to normal. Some have suggested, however, that instead of going back to normal we should move forward to something better. I agree. With so many issues to be disgusted about, let’s work for a better way.
In Inside Out, Disgust incites Anger to help accomplish her purpose – she fuels his anger with her words until he bursts into flames and breaks open the window to save Joy and Sadness.
Instead of avoiding or denying or being ashamed of our disgust, let’s embrace and channel it through “honest, well-meaning, caring and protective ways” in an effort to help our communities move forward to something better and ultimately to help save lives.
Then we can all sit back, sassy and sarcastically, and say, “You’re welcome.”
“Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic.” ―
The old, heavy, wooden door creaks open. I don’t move. I don’t open my eyes.
Tiny feet gracefully skate across the hardwood floor in footed pajamas as they’ve done countless times before. I feel her warm breath on my face and catch a hint of fabric softener and shampoo from last night’s bath. I remain in character – lifeless.
She reaches out with her chubby fingers, gently touching my cheek and sliding her hand down my face, repeating the motion a second and a third time. I break, holding back a smile, and squint through the darkness. 4:12.
“Mama. Hungry. Up.”
I pause to enjoy the early morning moment before rolling over away from her. I tug at the covers, push my husband’s cold feet away, and smile, out of her view.
“It’s still nighttime, Hannah. Go back to bed.”
Hannah: Hebrew name (Channah) meaning “favour, grace.”
Alaska: Aleut word Alaxsxaq orAlyeska meaning “mainland” (literally, “the object toward which the action of the sea is directed”), “great land,” “beauty.”
She touches my hair, trying for another response.
I lie motionless. I could use another hour of sleep. Or two.
Conceding defeat, she moves on to the next tactic, maneuvering herself into our bed, one leg up and then the other, pulling, struggling, then highjacking the quilt. She squirms a bit and snuggles in beside me.
“Love you, mama.”
I roll back over toward her, stare into her big, dark brown eyes, and smile. I run my fingers through her hair and down the side of her rosy, chubby cheek, as she had earlier done to me. I gently close her eyes and continue to caress her face until her breathing slows. Over her eyes, down her cheek, again and again and again, slower and softer each time.
And then tranquility arrives as she drifts off to fantasyland.
My sleeping beauty.
“I love you, too, Hannah … Alaska.”
“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood, Nodaway News Leader
I’m standing in the middle of the road.
If you’ve ever been in the middle of a road, or seen someone who is, you know it’s probably not the safest place to be.
There’s a chance you might get hit. More likely, though, you’ll get yelled at or cursed at, honked at or shown some unfriendly hand gestures.
When I was a kid, we lived on a quiet street, so it was pretty common to see us in the middle of the road. We would play ball or skateboard or even go sledding with little concern. Now I live in the country and walking down the middle of a gravel road can be quite peaceful.
But the road I’m standing in the middle of is not a country road. It’s not a city street. Or even a busy highway. Although it’s plenty loud. And it can feel fairly threatening.
The road I’m standing on is a political one. And I don’t think I’m alone here either.
It’s sometimes hard to see each other there in the middle, or near the middle, because the far left and the far right are zooming by us so incredibly loudly.
We’re trying to navigate each day while surrounded by the divisiveness and partisan polarization that has grown in our country in recent years. And we’re doing it, right there amidst all that yelling and cursing and honking, still trying to stand on our principles without being tossed to and fro.
Before I go any further, let me be clear…I’m not promoting silence or complicity. When there are issues we feel strongly about, we should take a stand, write our elected leaders, hold meetings, walk in parades, knock on doors, advocate, share on social media. We can do it fervently and still respectfully.
In “Eisenhower Republicanism – Pursuing the Middle Way,” author Steven Wagner writes: “In American political culture, those who describe themselves as ‘middle of the road’ are often portrayed as unwilling to take a stand or lacking in political sophistication. This was not the case with Eisenhower, whose ‘middle way’ was a carefully considered political philosophy similar to Theodore Roosevelt’s cautious progressivism.”
Eisenhower said his ‘middle way’ was a “practical working basis between extremists.”
Sounds to me like we could use some of that practicality in our current political climate.
So what can we learn from Eisenhower today?
A couple of Bills may have the answer.
Bill Kristol, a conservative Republican of the George HW Bush White House and founder of The Weekly Standard, and Bill Galston, a Democrat veteran of the Bill Clinton White House and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, created the New Center project and wrote Ideas to Re-Center America.
“We present some bold new ideas for re-centering America. We know that our politics have gotten off kilter. As the parties have become more polarized and our politics more partisan, the great American majority – which wants to see cooperation and compromise – has been left with no good choices.”
Their ideas center on four core values they believe can help move politics beyond polarization – opportunity, security, ingenuity and accountability.
“The ideas we advance represent a New Center for American politics, a politics that reflects both our enduring principles and the new circumstances we confront. In place of a politics stuck in the past, we offer an agenda re-centered in the future, not a tepid compromise between Left and Right, but a new way toward the stronger economy, more inclusive society and more effective politics that we all want for the country we love.”
You can read more at newcenter.org.
Albert Einstein said: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” While we might be going through some difficult times, there might also be some great opportunities out there to discover.
So if you’re like me and standing in the middle of the road, or on the shoulder of one side or the other, let’s look for ways to come together and not be drowned out by all the yelling and cursing and honking.
I’d much rather help build bridges (than walls) to help unite and strengthen our nation.
“Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 167 AD
Karin Yarnell doesn’t have the energy to play with her kids. Or do house projects. Or be involved with her church or help others or spend time with friends.
All of which was a big part of her life just a few short years ago.
“I used to be extremely active,” the 40-year-old Maryville resident said. “I loved to play sports, work out, hike, swim, bike and run.”
Now, she does none of those things.
To look at her, though, nothing seems wrong.
But beneath the surface, she lives her life in pain.
“I rarely have pain-free days,” she said. “I have learned to fight through pain as much as possible to be able to do what I love. Some days, though, the pain wins, and I go to bed.
“I reserve my best for my family and my ministry. After that, there isn’t much left.”
She and her husband Jason, who is the Baptist Student Union minister, have three children, Meghan, Caleb and Allison. She is a homemaker and also serves as a BSU mentor.
Yarnell lives with what have been called invisible illnesses – chronic conditions not visible on the outside.
She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2005 and Celiac disease in 2008.
With Hashimoto’s, her immune system attacks her thyroid and prevents it from making enough hormones.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and is triggered by eating foods containing gluten.
She was on thyroid medication for several years but her body started having hyperthyroid reaction to it and she was taken off it.
Then in 2012, she was also diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
CFS affects many body systems making it difficult to do normal activities. Fibromyalgia includes long-term pain spread throughout the body in the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues and is often linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression and anxiety.
“I have been under the care of several doctors and functional practitioners throughout the years who have all provided me with great knowledge and have helped in various ways,” she said. “My treatment right now consists of a very strict diet, rest, managing stress, low exercise and managing symptoms with medication as they arise.”
“Fatigue is the single most life-changing symptom I have,” Yarnell said. “I can manage pain. I can manage not feeling well, but the fatigue is relentless. It’s not a fatigue that goes away with sleep. It doesn’t go away with a nap. It’s always with me. It affects me every day.”
In addition to fatigue, she is extremely sensitive to gluten and has severe reactions to even a small amount of cross-contamination. She makes her own meals, doesn’t eat out and takes food with her wherever she goes.
“I try to set people at ease, but I know some feel uncomfortable when I can’t eat what they have prepared,” she said. “I never expect anyone to cater to my needs, but I know they still feel badly about it.”
Another symptom is brain fog which has affected her ability to communicate with others.
“I used to be a confident public speaker, but now I have difficulty stringing together coherent thoughts.”
She also can’t drive for long periods of time as her eyes grow weary and her whole system wants to go to sleep.
“My family is tremendously supportive,” she said. “My husband is phenomenal. He believes me and affirms me when I tell him how I feel even though I look fine on the outside. He prays for me. He encourages me to try new things that might help my symptoms. He adds extra work on himself so I don’t have to do it and he never complains.”
She said her children are incredibly supportive as well.
“They understand I can’t do the things I used to do. They make me laugh. They are understanding and sympathetic.”
Yarnell said her church recently started an encouragement group for women with chronic illness. It is open to the public and meets at 7:30 pm on the first Monday of the month at Laura Street Baptist Church.
“It is a blessing to be around others who understand how you feel,” she said. “I read a lot of blogs and talk to people online that share my symptoms. Sometimes it’s just nice to know you aren’t alone.”
One of the biggest lessons she’s learned is how to depend on God for everything.
“I need God every day,” she said. “He is my Friend, my Comfort, my Savior. I talk to Him a lot about the pain I am feeling. I know He knows and understands. He sees my struggle that is invisible to everyone else and He is there for me. He gives me joy, peace and contentment.”
She is also continuing to learn it’s okay to not do everything that is expected.
“The reality is that I can’t,” she said. “I have to choose to not feel guilty about it.”
Despite living with these illnesses, Yarnell offers encouragement and hope.
“It’s okay and important to grieve,” she said. “Cry over what is lost, but don’t quit.
“Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to do what everyone else does. You are fighting a battle others know nothing about. Don’t compare what you can do with what healthy people do.
“You can still be happy! It might take some extra work, and you might have to cut things out in order to give your best to what you find the most meaningful, but it’s worth it.”
Background information came from the National Institutes of Health at nih.gov.
Do you have regrets?
I always wanted to be the person who said no to that question. No regrets.
But do I? Probably.
I wish I would’ve done this. Or I probably shouldn’t have done that.
I’m not sure I really even like that question, though, or the idea of it.
Life is a journey, full of ups and downs, good choices and not so good ones.
And that is true when it comes to parenting, especially as our children have gotten into their older teen years.
I guess my husband, Larry, was pondering some of these same things last fall when he decided we were going to implement what he called “Family Time.”
Let me back up a bit and say that family has always been extremely important to us. Since our children were very young, we’ve tried to set aside one night a week for Family Home Evening, a program recommended by our church. We’ve also tried to read scriptures and pray together every day. And we’ve also tried to spend as much time together as possible, supporting them in their activities, getting together with extended family and enjoying family vacations together.
Some of these things have been more successful than others.
In the last couple of years, though, it’s been extremely difficult as our kids started high school and became more involved with things.
Larry was reminded of guidance we once received from the leaders of our church: “We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children. We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, gospel study and instruction and wholesome family activities.”
Have we been giving our children our “best efforts?” Not always. We needed to do better.
So what is family time? Ideally, it’s 30 minutes to an hour set aside for praying, reading scriptures, listening to each other without devices distracting us and finding some fun to throw in there like a quick game of charades, or if we have more time, a board game. Or we’ll watch a video on YouTube. Or just let them talk about what’s important to them.
I can’t say Family Time happens every single day. Some days it’s just impossible for all of us to be in one place at the same time and awake. Larry leaves in the morning before everyone is up and goes to sleep sometimes before everyone gets home.
Sometimes it’s only five or ten minutes, long enough to see how everyone’s day was, pray and read a few scriptures.
Sometimes we combine it with dinner. Or we read and eat at the same time.
Sometimes we do it over the phone or use FaceTime.
Sometimes we laugh so much we cry. And sometimes it’s rough, especially when people are moody or tired, and someone leaves the room in anger.
But looking back at the last six months, I feel more connected with my kids than I ever have before.
And more hopeful.
Because when I look around at the world and all the darkness that seems to be growing with each day, I want to make sure I’m doing what I can to help spread more light. And help them do the same.
If we want to see change in the world, we must be the change. And I believe that starts at home.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and by just having fun. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities.”
So I’m encouraging you to start your own Family Time, whatever that means to you. It doesn’t have to be like ours. If you’re not religious, that’s okay. Make it your own. Five or ten minutes when they wake up or before they go to bed. Or a phone call or FaceTime every afternoon on your break at work. Whatever works for you and your situation.
But make it a priority. Show them how much you love them by giving of your time, even when you don’t think you have any to spare.
You won’t regret it.
That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood, printed in the Nodaway News Leader, February 8, 2018
“Have I, have you, been too silent? Is there an easy crime of silence?” – Carl Sandburg
In November, Dictionary.com announced its word of the year for 2017 was “complicit” and wrote it “has sprung up in conversations this year about those who speak out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stay silent.”
Complicit is defined as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.”
They also wrote that complicity — or the refusal to be complicit — was pertinent to some of the biggest news topics of the year, from politics to anthem protests by NFL players to the #MeToo movement.
I’ve been pondering this word over the last couple of months, not for the reasons they chose it, but in regards to underage drinking.
Why are so many adults so complicit when it comes to this?
Responses I’ve heard include “they’re just being young and dumb” or “I did it when I was their age and turned out just fine.”
I served on a mental health taskforce in Nodaway County several years ago that also focused on underage drinking.
One of the things I learned was that teen brains are not fully formed until age 25 or even later. In recent years, more research has been done on this subject.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center: “Adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”
The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and National Association of Social Workers, in a 2012 brief to the Supreme Court, wrote: “It is increasingly clear that adolescent brains are not yet fully mature in regions and systems related to higher order executive functions such as impulse control, planning ahead and risk avoidance.”
I’m not giving teens a pass when it comes to underage drinking because their brains aren’t fully developed. I believe we can expect more from them than “they’re just being young and dumb.”
But as Meredith Wadman, MD, wrote in the Washington Post, “Kids will be kids so parents must be parents.”
“I don’t buy the argument that advises adults to wink and nod at underage drinking because it’s going to happen regardless. It’s not true that the attitudes of adults, and their seriousness about laws and rules, have no influence on teenagers’ drinking habits.”
She cited the College Alcohol Study at the Harvard School of Public Health which spent eight years studying more than 50,000 students at 120 colleges.
They concluded that students drink more on campuses that have a strong drinking culture, few alcohol-control policies and weak enforcement. They also found that few students engage in binge drinking at some colleges while 80 percent of students reported binge drinking at others.
“Don’t tell me that college policies and cultures — in other words, the tone set by those in authority on campus — have nothing to do with these disparities,” she wrote.
Wadman also looked at the University of Florida which was once known as a top party school before administrators adopted measures that included mandating alcohol education for freshmen and banning alcohol advertising at concerts and sports events. The binge-drinking rate dropped from 57 to 38 percent in four years.
Administrators and students at the University of Virginia created a high-profile marketing campaign to combat underage drinking. In the 10-year period that followed, there was a 33 percent decrease in binge drinking, an 81 percent decline in drinking and driving and a 76 percent drop in alcohol-related injuries among students.
Wadman used the word “parents” in her article, but I believe all adults need to step up to help combat this issue. Sadly, not everyone has involved parents. And even then, none of us can be there at every moment in our child’s lives, especially, for example, single parents working two and three jobs to support their families or those with other circumstances and challenges.
“If you see something, say something” has been a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security in recent years to help combat terrorism. I think it’s great advice to combat underage drinking as well.
It can take a lot of courage to speak up sometimes. We can be afraid of the consequences that might come in doing so. But potentially saving lives should be more important than backlash.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”
This is a serious problem that needs all of our courageous voices speaking out.
So if you see something, please say something.