Response To Rob Roper

To the Editor:

This is in response to an opinion piece by Rob Roper, “Politicizing Our Kids and Rising Suicide Rates.” Mr. Roper remarks on the rising rates of teen suicide. “The problem,” he writes, “is particularly acute in Vermont where our young people die by suicide at one of the highest rates in the country. So, here is a question: is politicizing (politically weaponizing) our kids causing them serious psychological damage?”

That’s a loaded question because the kids aren’t being politicized or weaponized. They want to feel they have some control over their own destiny because the adults in the room are far too often acting, well, juvenile.

Mr. Roper writes: “We are taking these immature, trusting, malleable young people and bombarding them every day with messages like, if we don’t pass a carbon tax and all start driving electric cars within the next decade it will lead to, in the words of one Vermont Representative, “planetary collapse.” Grab a poster, skip school, and we’ll put your picture on the front page of the paper.”

Not coincidentally, that’s a political talking point of the Ethan Allen Institute (EAI). The language he uses, including the sarcasm, mimics the opinion pieces EAI publishes on the subject. So it seems that the EAI is the one using this opportunity to politicize teen suicide, and that’s a shame.

Mr. Roper writes about what he believes to be the media’s misguided coverage of gun violence in schools and its effect upon our children: “There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. One of the safest places you will ever be is in your school… .” Statistically that might be true, but it provides no solace to victims of school shootings. This is why the Parkland students organized. They weren’t weaponized by adults when they decided to take political and social action on their own. They were traumatized. They found no pulse among their dead classmates or among the conservatives in the nation’s capital on the issue of sensible gun control.

Mr. Roper asks, “Is our world perfect? No. Is there work to do to make things even better than they are today? Of course. But, as the adults here it’s our responsibility to fix these problems, not yours.”

If only. It wasn’t the adults who first took to the streets to bring the Vietnam war to an end (that is to say, to end the senseless slaughter of our children by the supervising adults). My daughter led a coalition of students to force the University of Massachusetts to divest its $400 million from fossil fuels, the first public university in the country to do so. I didn’t see any adults in the room at the time, except for the attorneys working pro bono providing legal guidance (at the students’ request). The movement included civil disobedience when they peacefully occupied the hallways of an administration building. A dozen kids were arrested and sentenced to community service. At the time of sentencing, the judge (a/k/a the adult) berated them and told them acts of civil disobedience would not achieve their objectives. Before the week was out, though, the Board of Regents voted to divest… as a direct result of the students’ actions. Those kids felt empowered, not depressed. I am sorry if their opinions on climate change do not coincide with those of the EAI.

Perhaps you would have instead sent them to their bedrooms to enjoy their favorite video games and television shows. Oh the innocence of childhood. By the time a child reaches the first grade, she/he will have watched 30,000 television commercials and witnessed 8,000 acts of violence on television and video games, at a time when their brains are being hard-wired. Courtesy of the adults in the room. Boys in particular identify with fictional characters and emulate their behavior. I channel surfed the television stations. Eighty percent of what I saw dealt with —and glorified — violence, from crime and horror shows to super heroes. Something for all ages. The violence of the top video games is horrific, from “Battlefield: Hardline” to “Bloodborne” to “Hatred”. The premise of “Hatred”: “Players act out the role of a sociopath who attempts to kill innocent bystanders and police officers with guns, flamethrowers, and bombs to satisfy his hatred of humanity. Blood and gore is rampant, as are characters begging for mercy before they’re executed, frequently during profanity-laced rants.” Recommended viewing? 10-year-olds and up! Children are being commercially exploited and robbed of their childhoods by the adults in the room.

Children aren’t committing suicide because they are organizing and addressing what they believe to be social injustices. They are driven to despair by social isolation, bullying, cyberbullying, physical and emotional abuse, substance abuse, the disintegration of the nuclear family and the commercialization of their lives. The adults in the room, especially in the last 10 years, have shredded the Constitution and now lay siege on all things different: Intolerance of immigrants from the south, intolerance of Muslims, intolerance of Jews, intolerance of gender identity… intolerance, frankly, of diversity in all of its forms, and it reaches in to the classrooms. Children are being led into a trap. Their differences are not only not tolerated, they are mocked and broadcast through social media, and they are driven to despair. Some self inflict; others turn their anger and confusion outward.

No, Mr. Roper, teen suicide is on the rise not because of their concern for, and action on, climate change and gun control. Don’t politicize them in that way to further your agenda.

Jeffrey Reel

St. Johnsbury, Vt.

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