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Mark Goulston, M.D. Headshot

Have an Underperforming Teenager?

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Also seen at: Basil & Spice

Have an underperforming J.H.S., H.S. or college kid?
Maybe they're just lazy...maybe not.
If logic and convincing doesn't motivate your child
from the outside in, stop doing it...
try understanding them from their inside out.

Take a deep breath.
Stop reacting from your frustration
and read what follows below...
Does it sound like someone you know?
If so, ask them to read it,
ask them which line(s) speak to them and how,
listen, hear and care,
don't interrupt or give advice unless they ask
and if you're lucky
and if you haven't hurt or angered them too much...
they might let you in.
If they do, tell them: "I'm sorry, I never knew you felt so bad,"
Let them get angry at you until they get it out
let them cry and keep crying until they've cried themselves out.
Then they might even let you help them
if you ask them the best way to do it
and then you just listen, hear and care...

Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear.
For I wear a thousand masks that I am afraid to take off
and none of them are me.

Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled,
for God's sake don't be fooled.
I give the impression that I am secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me,
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game;
that the waters are calm and I am in command,
and that I need no one.

But don't believe me, please.
My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask.
Beneath this lies no complacency.
Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.

I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear of being exposed.
That is why I frantically create a mask to hide behind;
a nonchalant, sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation.
My only salvation. And I know it.
That is, if it is followed by acceptance, if it is followed by love.
It is the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself,
that I am worth something.

But, I don't tell you this. I don't dare. I am afraid to.
I am afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love.
I am afraid you will think less of me, that you will laugh at me,
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate game,
with a facade of assurance without, and a trembling child within.
And so begins the parade of masks, and my life becomes a front.

I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that is really nothing,
and nothing of what is everything,
of what is crying within me.

So when I am going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I am saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I am not saying.
What I would like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say, but I can't say.

I dislike hiding, Honestly!
I dislike the superficial game I am playing, the phony game.
I would really like to be genuine and spontaneous, and me,
but you have got to help me. You have got to hold out your hand,
even when that is the last thing I seem to want.

Only you can wipe away from my eyes that blank stare of breathing death.
Only you can call me into aliveness.

Each time you try to understand and because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings.

With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding,
you can breathe life into me.

I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be the creator of the person that is me if you choose to.
Please choose to.

You alone can break down the wall
behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask.

You alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic and uncertainty;
From my lonely prison.

Do not pass me by.
Please... do not pass me by.

It will not be easy for you;
a long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.

The nearer you approach me, the blinder I strike back.

I fight against the very thing I cry out for. But I am told that
love is stronger than walls, and in this lies my hope.

Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands,
but with gentle hands-for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well.
For I am everyone you meet, I am me and I am you.

- Charles C. Finn, from his poem Please Hear What I Am Not Saying.

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