The stories I write are about kids who come from difficult family situations. Their parents are negligent, abusive, or so caught up in their own problems that they fail to put their children first. When you’re a kid in such a situation, sometimes you don’t even realize that anything’s wrong. Your family goes out of the way to make you think that you don’t have it so bad, that your life is normal. Advice columnist Carolyn Hax had this to say about the phenomena: “Controlling people are dangerous, especially to children, because they block the flow of natural information to their victims, which then gives the victims a distorted emotional view.”
Several things can happen when you grow up with a distorted emotional view. You can become convinced that you’re useless and powerless—that you will never succeed, even if you’re given ample opportunities to do so, such as through scholarships. You can develop depression and anxiety that will stick with you throughout your life. You can pass all this down to your own children.
A few lucky kids will have an “ah ha” moment when something they see at a friend’s home, read in a book, or hear from a teacher will crack the shell of their artificial reality. If they’re smart and strong they might peck their way out of that shell, the way a baby chick does, and go on to build a healthy, productive life.
I was one of those kids, and I feel for them. I want to create an online outreach that will accelerate their learning curve and give them a sanctuary. I want to show them that they are the masters of their own destiny and that they can create the family they need through their friends, teachers, and mentors.
But can I connect with these kids? Will their need to keep the peace and show loyalty to their messed-up relatives override their need to find a “tribe”? Will they be able to recognize that they need help? I think the desire to be normal might keep them from taking advantage of such an outreach. On the other hand, teen angst causes many kids to think that they’ve got it worse than reality indicates. So maybe some of them would take refuge even if they didn’t really “need” it.
Experience has led me to believe that we all have some level of dysfunction in our families, so I’ll put the question to you. If there had been an online source of support when you were young, would you have taken advantage of it? If so, how would your family have reacted if they’d found out? (My mom would have shot the messenger.) Do you have any advice or insight that might be helpful as I consider this idea? Could you recommend expert sources, books, or classes that might allow me to learn more about adolescent psychology?