In tutor time today, I happened to stumble upon the subject of Caroline Flack. We were talking about kindness and we were looking at the quote that she wrote on her Instagram just before she took her life – in a world where you can be anything, be kind.
For those of you who are not in the UK, Caroline was a famous TV presenter who got arrested for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend. The boyfriend didn’t want her charged, but between the court dates and losing her job, she was hounded on social media by trolls. She went on to commit suicide in February of last year.
I hadn’t planned to talk about this subject, but having started speaking, I couldn’t really reverse. I suddenly realised that I do not know these kids very well at all and if any of them had any trauma I could have done damage.
Luckily for me, they seemed interested in what happened to her and nobody seemed too upset. However, it did make me stop and think about how we approach subjects like this with young people. It’s so important that they understand how powerful their words are – even words that they have just typed.
My tutor group is made up of twelve and thirteen year olds, and I found that they really did seem too young to understand why someone would commit suicide. They are old enough to understand death, but the complexity of what happened to Caroline seemed a little too much for them to take on.
I remember when I was about seven a family friend committed suicide and my brain could not comprehend why it had happened. I was also morbidly fascinated and I remember asking lots of questions that were probably really inappropriate. I don’t know enough about child development to know if my lot really understand death – I mean, if I’m being honest, even I can’t quite grasp the fact that there will be an end to this adventure.
It does feel as though it’s important to speak to our young people about suicide, because it’s not a cry for help, and much of the time that’s all teenagers want to do. It’s a scary time for them as they become adults and crying out for a hand is to be expected, and healthy, and normal.
So all in all, I had another day of educating myself more than the kids as I thought really deeply about everything from mental health, trauma, respecting feelings and the power of my own words. One day the kids might actually learn more than I do!