When I was a girl, a number of topics were only spoken of in a whisper. I remember my grandmother only whispering the word “cancer” when a relative was ill. When a child struggled in school in that time before there was so much help available, the adults would whisper that there were “issues.” Then, they would exchange knowing glances. Sexual preferences were not even spoken of in the quietest of tones. I also remember a family member struggling with mental health issues and whispering about that took place in corners away from children. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short time, but we aren’t quite there yet. We still have stigmas in our society. We can lift stigmas with the right messages to our children.
Today, students who struggle with learning have so many more opportunities. We have better ways to diagnose and work with students with learning challenges. And yet – many parents are afraid of pursuing that help because of the fear of labels and stigmas. Parents have told me that they don’t want their child “classified” without even fully understanding what that means. The federal law entitling students to special services is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To receive those services, students must have a challenge that falls within specific categories or classifications. The child has a diagnosis that matches a classification. It does not mean that the child is doomed. In fact, it means that the child qualifies for needed assistance. As a society, we need to do a better job demonstrating acceptance for learning differences. We need to teach our children that we all need help sometimes and there is nothing wrong with qualifying for it. Perhaps, the stigma can be diminished so that less fear will be associated with special services.
The recent, tragic death of Robin Williams shined a bright light on mental health. We have come a long way from the days of filthy, abusive asylums and random electric shock therapy. And yet – so many of our teens engage in self-destructive behaviors behind a curtain of shame. So many parents seek help for their teens and feel alone in their journey and their fears. So many adults go for therapy but are afraid to tell anyone. We live in a very competitive, stressful, always connected society where advertising tells us that good isn’t good enough. We spend less time in nature and less time taking care of ourselves. We are better able to diagnose and treat clinical depression, bipolar disorders and other imbalances. There is no shame in seeking peace and happiness. Again, we need to teach our children that we all need some help sometimes and there is no shame in reaching for it. In fact, it takes courage to seek help.
As the parent of a member of the LGBTQ community, I am so grateful that acceptance has reached a point of allowing same sex couples to marry. And yet – so many young people are so afraid to tell the adults in their lives that they are lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning. People should not suffer emotionally for their biology. We should be grateful when our children find love so they can share their lives with others. We need to teach our children that sexuality isn’t a choice, no one lifestyle is better than another, and we are all entitled to love and to be loved.
As I watch my sons and their friends, I see how much more accepting they are than generations past. They whisper less. They don’t talk in the shadows as often. Acceptance has come a long way and yet…..
Read my articles in “The Shriver Report”: "Stress in the Family: Helping Our Children to Cope" ; "From Working Mom to Working Woman: The Opportunity of the Empty Nest""Family Finances: Tips To Teaching Your Kids About Money""Equality in My Home"
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