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My Outlook - When the messages don't match

Shelley Luedtke shares her 'outlook'.
Shelley Column Pic

I remember telling myself how differently I’d feel if I could just make it through the month of September. As I juggled the excitement, nerves and trepidation of my first year of university, my stomach was churning on a range of emotions. The last day of classes that month I held up as the benchmark. It meant I would have survived the first four weeks of class. But first I had to get through those initial days.

During the first week of classes I had that ‘drinking from a fire hose’ feeling. The reading list for my Political Science class alone made my head spin. I wondered why no one else was feeling as out of place as I was. It was so unfamiliar. So intimidating. Of course many did, but in our need to put on a brave face we acted as if we knew what was going on. We pretended we belonged. The outside appearance belied the inner chaos.

Yet students aren’t the only ones who feel it. As a mom she waits…and worries. Worries about the text that might arrive describing the awful day her daughter is having. Worried that no text will arrive and wondering how bad it might be. Her daughter is bullied at school but it is she, as a parent, who is struggling too. It’s her child. She has asked for help from local, district and State authorities. She doesn’t understand why they can’t do something more significant. Their talk is good but their actions less so. She feels on edge all day at work. Then she waits for the text at the end of the school day that her daughter is now home. Safe. It means she’s gotten through another day.

During the first days of university there were helpful people along the way—and some who were less so. I’m sure constructive information presented was presented, but orientation activities seemed to focus on opportunities for binge drinking. Weekly seminars led by graduate students were touted as a lifeline in our classes. But one of my seminar leaders told us if we had any questions of him we could ask, and then he went and sat in a desk and read a book. We didn’t know what we should be asking.  Another spent week after week lecturing us about ocean pollution. An important topic to be sure, but it bore little relevance to the class the seminar was connected to.

As students my friends and I made it through, but some of us wondered where we would have turned for help if we hadn’t had each other. We were accepted into this institute of higher learning based solely on our grades but when we got there it didn’t appear as if many felt it important to talk about academics and learning. Then again, a lot of people are facing this kind of mixed messaging and could be asking similar questions. For instance, where are our children supposed to turn as we confound them with double-talk directives?

We applaud anti-bullying programs yet hold up athletes as heroes that model bullying behavior. We seem to delight in celebrity feuds and allow social media channels to be flooded with threats and dehumanizing messages.

We want our children to grow up being polite and respectful yet we sit back and watch politicians and newsmakers disrupt, interrupt and ridicule each other. We justify it as part of the process and few demand better.

We hope our children develop strong values and morals yet we allow them to be influenced by strangers. A 2020 survey found that while 42% of parents said they were concerned about sexual and violent content their teenagers were exposed to, and even more were concerned about who they were talking to online, less than 5% put a limit on their phones.

Few transitions in life are easy so we should never underestimate what any of us experience as we enter different stages and begin new ventures. But it can be better navigated with shared outcomes and consistent goals. It’s why we need to be open about what we are truly feeling and what assistance we might need. Better yet is to be aware enough of what is going on with each other so we can be the support they may not be able to ask for. But let’s be sure we are being consistent in what we offer, because our hope for each other should be so much more than just getting through. That’s my outlook.