Let the Artist Kids Art
I took Drama my freshman year of high school. In the storybook version of my journey as an actor, that's where my flair for the craft began, where I was given a chance to flourish on stage and find my artistic voice!
For me, high school drama consisted of the popular kids dicking around on stage in front of an indifferent teacher. Sure, I could have spoken up and let said teacher know that it was something I had a vast interest in doing, but the environment that was created was not remotely safe for anyone, let alone a pudgy, mushroom-coifed, punchable face, to be vulnerable.
For example, one of the scenes that was reenacted in class was from the film A Bronx Tale, where the black kids on bikes accidentally find their way into the Italian neighborhood, beating and all. It was played… triumphantly, if you catch my fucking drift.
That's growing up on Staten Island in the late-90's, for ya.
While I see that happening in a classroom 2022 (well, fuck, I really can't speak for certain parts of the country), I don't have faith in art being nourished in schools.
Don't get me wrong - there are some amazing artistic teachers out there. I know many personally, who dedicate all of their energy to fostering safe spaces for kids to explore their inner-artist.
But this is New York City, a liberal hotbed. (Yes, I'm making that blanketed insinuation. Come the fuck at me.) And when budgets come a-cutting, what's always the first thing to go?
I'm writing this post because in my work as a Crisis Text Line counselor, about half of the people I talk to are under the age of 18. A lot of them are in high school, middle school, and even a few elementary schoolers.
It's heartbreaking, but at the same time, pretty fucking inspiring. This generation of kids are learning to use the resources around them to protect their mental health, dealing with trauma as it's happening. I sure as fuck wasn't equipped, or encouraged, to do so so when I was growing up.
Often it's low-stakes stuff. In high school, the little things can feel like the world is ending. But for every few I get that can be easily talked down, there will be one where the young person is dealing with a devastating issue - family deaths, abusive adults, severe bullying, neglect, etc.
Part of what we explore with young people are healthy coping skills - things that help them find their calm cool in a hot moment that aren't self-destructive. Most of the time, it's something like watching Youtube videos, going for a walk, or Tik Tok scrolling (which, I suspect, is festering with toxicity in its own right).
Then there are the kids who like to draw, paint, write, make videos - the kids who have an artist flickering inside them. (And, for all the toxicity that Tik Tok may fester, it IS a place for them to create.)
I cannot tell you how many of them have not had their artistry encouraged. Even more so, the ones who have adults and older kids in their lives telling them it's stupid, or insignificant, or a waste of time. The ones who haven't been told how incredibly cathartic and healthy art can be to express and process their troublesome emotions and life circumstances.
I cannot tell you how many of them have expressed amazing, high-concept ideas in their art. Last night, I had a 13-year-old, who has been writing a series with an iconic character with an extremely high-concept, in a completely different genre. It was BRILLIANT. I was legitimately jealous.
I asked if anyone has read their stories. The response I got was an emphatic no - it was their little secret. The adults in their life would never encourage that.
This kid wasn't in immediate crisis, and the queue was backed up, so I couldn't stay on with them. But hell, I would have had them paste the stories to the chat for me to read, so I could give them notes and be their champion writing coach and turn them into the greatest writer of their generation.
But alas, all I could say was "keep writing, the world needs more artists." And also, "find a friend you trust, who won't judge you for being creative, and have them read your stuff." Go find your tribe, kid.
Then, like everyone I speak to on the platform, I have to let them go and hope for the best.
I'm not a parent, so I'm in no position to speak for what you let your kids do, but art is fucking important. It's everywhere in your life - every elevator you step into, every painting you see in the lobby of a building, every time you turn on the radio, or step into a movie theater, you're reaping the fruits of someone's artistic labor.
That artistic labor needs a place to be safely birthed.
If you are struggling with your mental health, there is no shame in getting help:
If you are in immediate crisis:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now 988, however you can still connect with this number): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish
Crisis Text Line: Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling
Disaster Distress Helpline: CALL or TEXT 1-800-985-5990
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Black Mental Health Alliance – (410) 338-2642
Therapy For Black Girls: https://therapyforblackgirls.com/
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association: https://www.naapimha.org/
Inclusive Therapists: https://www.inclusivetherapists.com/
Indian Health Services: https://www.ihs.gov/communityhealth/behavioralhealth/
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116 – TTY
Alzheimer’s Association Helpline: 1-800-272-3900
Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), then select 1, or Crisis Chat text: 8388255
Open Path Collective - Open Path Collective is a directory of low-cost options for in-person and online therapy. The directory includes filters for therapist matching. Open Path has a fee for a lifetime membership, and therapists on this platform commit to providing services for no more than $60 for individuals and $80 for couples/families. Lifetime memberships also available.