Editor’s note: This letter to the editor of the Caledonian-Record by Rob Roper is a response to another letter to the editor that appeared in the Caledonian-Record.
To the editor:
Steven Isham’s letter of June 10th mischaracterizes my op-ed, Politicizing Our Kids and Rising Suicide Rates, and in many ways misses my point. He writes: “Rob Roper … posits that liberal claims about the environment are causing a rise in teen and young adult suicide rate. He makes this claim without providing any proof other than his own opinion.”
First, I posed this as a question, not a proven fact. From the article, “So, here is a question: is politicizing (politically weaponizing) our kids causing them serious psychological damage?” I do hope more people with a stronger background than myself will examine this issue further because I personally think it deserves more attention. It can’t be psychologically healthy to put so much pressure on young people — teaching them it’s up to you to save the world or you and everything you love will die — and to bombard them so relentlessly with doom and gloom scenarios about their futures.
I do not argue “liberal claims about the environment are causing a rise in teen and young adult suicide rate[s].” But I do question how those claims are being used by some adults (politicians, activists, teachers), if they are keeping children in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety, anger, and hopelessness for crass political purposes, and if doing so is psychologically abusive.
For example, the concept of a carbon tax is not inherently threatening to a child. But, if you tell a middle schooler that “if we don’t pass a carbon tax now all the polar bears are going to die,” and you encourage (or coerce) that child to take part in a political campaign to pass the carbon tax, and then the carbon tax doesn’t pass, because, you then say, “all the adults running the world don’t care about you children,” what do you think the likely impact will be on that child’s psyche?
Mr. Isham writes: “anxiety over the environment is not listed as a factor for suicide in any list of such factors I could find.” I don’t doubt it. But anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness and isolation are all cited risk factors in teen suicide and substance abuse (also a major problem in Vermont). Therefore, it makes sense to me that indoctrinating kids with the idea that they live in a violent world on the verge of cataclysmic destruction, controlled by people who are racist, homophobic and otherwise hostile to their sense of identity, would feed negatively into all of those psychological factors.
It was my hope that the op-ed would start a conversation that would lead to some more concrete answers and insights on this issue, so I thank Mr. Isham for helping to start that broader conversation. I invite others to join in as well.