While I was on retreat at JRC, I had time to reflect on all the experiences of high school: all my good and bad choices, all the cheerful times and sorrowful times, and all my worst memories and high points.
The ever-present silence forced me to contemplate my perceptions of the world and of certain values. I questioned what happiness means to me, I wondered what my place is in this world--I wondered what I am supposed to do with my life and if that purpose would be important or meaningful enough. However, all these thoughts and questions were jumbled up in my mind and I had trouble sorting out the problems with my view on life, and so the solution didn’t come at first.
I did what I usually do when I have an issue that I can’t seem to figure out--I turned to books. The book that popped into the forefront of my mind was Stephan Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being a Wallflower.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a heartbreaking, raw, and breathtaking coming of age novel. Its blatant unsentimatality of the experience of high school is what makes the book so hauntingly beautiful and realistic. There are hilarious moments coupled with devastating ones, charming moments of friendships contrasted with shocking instances of bullying-- and arguably most prominent--drugs, alcohol, and sex.
It seems that high schools today are overrun with these realities. Instead of the “stoner” group being a stereotype at school, it instead became the ones who aren’t drug-doers. When one thinks of a high school party, red plastic cups filled with foul-smelling liquids come to mind. Car accidents, teenage drinking, suicides, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety are all on the rise, and the question of why that is has become a hot topic of discussion.
Social media definitely plays into the issue. We’ve all heard about the rise of cyberbullying as well as the bad effects Instagram and Snapchat have on young peoples’ perception of body image. We’ve seen how social media promotes unhealthy and unattainable body goals, resulting in a sharp increase in eating disorders--which have become the number one cause of death for females 15-24 years old.
We know all this, and yet we need our phones to enter concerts and stadiums, technology is increasingly integrated into learning, and our whole lives are being transported to online platforms. While this in itself is not a bad thing, it’s now a problem because young people have not been taught how to properly cope with these recent changes.
On top of the social media issue, school is becoming more and more difficult. Not because the subject matter is difficult, but because the learning environment has become a difficult place to thrive. Grade inflation has grown out of control: everyone has straight A’s and if you don’t you’re seen as less intelligent, schools are increasingly competitive, and on top of that missing a day of school--or even a class-- means many extra hours of playing catch-up.
Because of this, teenagers’ sleep patterns are incredibly erratic due to the fact that students are staying up later and later to stay on top of their schoolwork, participate in sports, and still do extra-activities in order to build strong college resumes.
After experiencing all this stress and pressure, the fact that drugs and alcohol consumption are on the rise doesn’t surprise me much. It seems interesting to me that we spend a majority of our lives building a college resume to have a chance of going to a good college, only to land a job that doesn’t make us happy and most usually only serves to pay the bills.
This brings me back to The Perks Of Being a Wallflower. In this book, the protagonist Charlie Klemicks is struggling between running away from his problems and facing them head on, like I was at the beginning of my retreat.
Reading the novel reminded me that a beautiful life isn’t only made up of beautiful moments: there has to be downs to it to know what an “up” is, and there has to be dark days in order to recognize what light-filled days are. I realized that happiness isn’t a transcript or a high-paying job, but rather a song that makes you realize why you love life, or a long drive with someone you love.
There’s a quote from the novel: “There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard, nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.” These little moments are what’s important in life; many little things make a prettier picture than a few large ones. This book helped me realize this, and I hope it does the same for all who decide to read it.
Shared by Arianna R who is a high school student at St. Francis Catholic High School, Sacramento