I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest being a teenager kinda sucks – and I’m not even someone who had a notably terrible experience. I was smart in a school where that wasn’t the kiss of social death, and I was part of a crowd of artsy/theatrical kids that in no way resembled the cast of Glee. (We neither burst into song when emotions ran high, nor got regularly pelted in the faces with slushies. A win all around, IMO.) Still, there were the usual petty battles, and epic levels of insecurity, enough so that even as I move ever-closer to 40, I have no interest in rolling back the clock for a do-over.
That pushing-40 thing also means I’m old enough to have had it comparatively easy, since I was in my teens when bullying had to be done to your face or through easily-intercepted passed notes. Now, of course, every jackhole with access to the Internet seems to think its his/her birthright to torment people anonymously online. (My massive dislike for online bad behavior could be a post in its own right, no doubt.)
I can’t imagine how much harder being a teen was – and is – for kids who are struggling with issues like sexual and gender identity. As news reports this week show, it can ratchet the usual adolescent bullshit to a tragic level, where one kid (or group of kids) torments another literally to death. I am heartbroken and enraged by these stories, and dumbfounded that we live in a world where such cruelty and hopelessness exist side by side.
Which is why I am so totally, utterly in love with the idea behind the It Gets Better project. It doesn’t address the cruelty end of the equation, but it speaks volumes to the hopelessness. Started on YouTube by columnist Dan Savage and his partner, it began as one video, from one gay couple, telling these despondent kids that the horrors of their teen years will pass… that they’ll come out, enough of the people they love will understand and accept them, and that they’ll go on to be happy, productive adults.
When I first heard about the project earlier in the week, Dan & Terry’s video had been joined by about a half-dozen others. Today, there are hundreds. Go watch a few. And if you know a kid who is struggling, grab him or her and make them watch, even if they think you’re just a dumb grown-up. Show them that you care, and that you don’t judge, and you just might be the difference they need: Be someone who helps make it better.