The topics of teen suicide and the bullying that usually precedes this drastic action have come to the forefront of national debate in the past couple of years. Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, and Ryan Halligan are some of the more well known cases, but thousands of teenagers end their life every year, and most are driven to it by the bullying and harassment they face everyday from their peers and society. In response, organizations such as The Trevor Project, It Gets Better, and the Born This Way Foundation have formed to offer outlets for teenagers to see that life can get better beyond the horror that can be adolescence. However, despite these resources, suicide is still one of the top causes of death among youth in western countries. The recent highly publicized case of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old girl who was cyberstalked, blackmailed, and bullied to death, shows that this trend is showing no signs of abating, and that has to stop.
Being a teenager generally sucks. Being a teenager today can be horrific. Your body is changing, hormones are going crazy, moral lobbists have made it practically impossible for teenagers to have any sort of healthy discussion about their sexuality, Hollywood and the media present grotesque and impossible body images to which teens aspire, and society demands that teenagers grow up, while simultaneously condemning those who are deemed to grow up too fast. It’s a horribly confusing time for most teenagers, and the easiest way to survive it is to fit in with the status quo, to not stand out, and to not rock the boat. The rise of the Internet and social media has created many resources to which troubled teens can turn, but it has also given rise to cyber-bullying, and created a seemingly unlimited number of ways to harass people, without that pesky face to face confrontation.
Simultaneous to the rise of social media, the past several years have seen massive funding cuts to community art programs, and these cuts have been well documented, debated, and discussed by critics and artists alike, including myself. Funding to school art programs has not been immune to these cutbacks, and schools across the country have seen their art programs scaled back, and in some cases cut altogether. Critics protest these cuts and point to the myriad of scientific studies that demonstrate how arts education can help children learn better and improve intelligence. Others argue that having access to an arts education helps to create well rounded individuals, but what the social value of the arts?
Art is a culture where being different is not only accepted, it is the goal to which every artist is striving. Finding your artistic voice and making it as distinct as possible is the basis of every artistic journey, and when you are successful in this journey, those around you applaud your accomplishment. Art is a place where creativity reigns supreme, and having a voice and making it heard is not just encouraged, it’s mandatory. Bullying and the other multitude of problems that teenagers face on a daily basis are complex issues with no easy answer, but just imagine if every teenager had full access to the artistic community and the benefits that community could provide them for their struggle to overcome these problems. They would have access to a culture that not only encourages being different, but actually celebrates what makes everyone unique. Imagine the confidence that this could instill in teenagers and in their abilities. Now imagine the power of a generation of youth raised in this atmosphere; a generation that doesn’t have to wait until adulthood to celebrate the differences among them. It’s a pretty glorious thought, and one that I hope will make educators stand up and take notice. And just maybe, it might be enough to convince people that investing in the arts goes way beyond education. It just might be a lifeline for our future.