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JP Blanchard's mother: 'Empower our students'

Original post made on Aug 26, 2009

The mother of a Gunn High School student who died at the Caltrain tracks in May pleaded with the school board Tuesday night to listen to students, not just adult professionals, in responding to the recent suicide cluster of Palo Alto teens.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 12:35 AM

Comments (57)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:12 am

Thanks to Kathleen Blanchard for speaking out. We all appreciate how difficult a time this has been and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family, as well as the other families.

We must take note of what she says.

Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:30 am

why do we keep on saying that there's too much stress in school? Life IS STRESSFUL. We should not take away this stress and instead, teach the kids how to deal with it.

Posted by Respect Your Children
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:53 am

They should hire counselors to be available after school hours. I remember back in the 80s, there was one psychologist and I never went to see her because I didn't want to miss class or be seen in her office. Kids need access to psychologists without having to ask their parents. And those teen hotlines? Those are strangers and are not as effective as a caring person to visit.

Parents need to pay more positive attention to their children. Talk to them about issues where they cannot judge their children (who's in their classes, where do people eat lunch, etc.). Yet parents need to allow children to keep feelings to themselves instead of interrogating them.

AND PLEASE QUIT NAGGING YOUR KIDS!! Some parents only talk to their children when they are nagging them. Nagging shows lack of respect. Give children a chance to remember on their own before nagging.

Children want respect and love from their parents. Children ALWAYS want to please their parents, deep down. Parents need to praise more. Remember your children when they were innocent babies. They are not mature adults until they move out of the house (generally speaking).

Come on parents, most of you know when your child is not happy. Don't ignore the signs and hope it miraculously passes on its own. How can you expect the best performance when they are not even happy?

Posted by gunn_parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:57 am

My heart goes out to the Holmes and Blanchard families, and my heart sinks each time I cross the railway tracks or hear the train.But, as a parent of two Gunn students, I have to appreciate the school's efforts in these difficult times. A school's primary goal is to provide a complete and balanced education, and as a family/community we all have to work together to provide a safe haven for our children. We have a lot of extended family on the East Coast; their children feel the pressure at school too. With all due respect, while Gunn is a tough environment, people choose it over other schools and choose to live in this neighborhood. School and peer pressure is one issue, the "pressure-cooker" of our personal lives is another. Each of these cases is an individual one; there is nothing to publicly indicate the direct and sole link to school-related issues. It is time to examine our lives and the different pieces that hold together our students' lives and fix what needs to be fixed, and "empower" our children to deal with life, giving them all the love and support we can.Schools alone cannot do this, families need to be involved and make changes too.

Posted by Recent Teenager
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:37 am

I don't understand - it sounds like this article is saying that kids are committing suicide because they need better math instruction.

If that is the inference of the school distict, and the parents around here, then it's no wonder this is happening. There is a serious disconnect between the adults and the kids in this community. How many 17 year olds really want more math and are willing to take their lives because they aren't getting it?

These kids aren't hurting because of academic achievement. They are hurting because pressure to a 17 year old is much different than pressure to a 30 year old. They don't have the same perspective. They may not show signs of depression at all, they may simply get ticked off and decide to go "show you". The concept of death is far less permanent to them than is is glorious. Trust me, I've stood on those tracks, so to speak. All I could think of was all the cool things my friends would say about me, how my parents would finally get "it" (whatever it was at the time), and how popular I'd be with out even trying. All I had to do was die, seemed easy enough at the time.

Talk to your kids. Ask them what they want to be. Support them when they tell you. Forcing them into your idea of achievement is wonderful for you, but not for them. I'm not saying let them be slackers, just work with them to help them grow into happy adults. After all, isn't that more important than what college they get into?

Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:18 am

I think the problem is that the parents put too much pressure on their kids. We the parents need to talk and listen to our kids and if your kid doesn't want to talk to you, have your kid talk to a relative, like a cousin or aunt and uncle.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:50 am

I feel sorry for what happened, but shouldn't we know why the 3 kids did what they did before we can really address the problems? Blaming the school or the academic pressure is not really the solution.

Posted by Respect Your Children
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:13 am

Thanks, Recent Teenager, for your input. That does sound like what teenagers might be thinking re suicide.

And I agree that parents should not force their children into their idea of the ideal career. Children need to find their interests because they (at least the male) will be employed for many, many years and it is preferable that they go to work each day at least somewhat enjoying what they are doing.

Posted by Maria
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:24 am

Kids have to learn to cope with stress practically from the time they are born. Parents have to be the ones supplying the how, not teachers, not specialists. Being there for their children, listening to them, showing that they are loved regardless of what grades they bring home, helping where needed, sympathizing, approving and setting limits is what parenting is all about. Today's children have too many things, too many parents try to "buy" love instead of saying "no" when necessary. So they expect to be handed high grades rather than working for them, blaming others for their failures instead of accepting responsibility for their actions. Bringing up kids is a fulltime job for both parents, and I realize that with both of them working is not easy, but I have done it, so I know its possible.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:36 am

Recent teenager,

I think you say it well.

One of the things that really struck me during the online debates last spring is that we have students who don't feel they can discuss how they really feel with their parents and are afraid to seek out counseling because that counseling will be reported to their parents.

As parents, we very much want to keep tabs on any treatment our children receive--but in the case of depression, where a teen feels he or she is not living up to parental expectations because of how they feel *inside*, admission of being "ill" or imperfect seems unthinkable.

Even where there has been treatment--and we don't know that that wasn't the case here--severe depression can be pretty overwhelming. We've got kids, for some reason, who think they can't cope. Some/most of that stems from a personal situation, some of it may way well be chemical.

But none of it's probably helped by the system of expectations we set up at the schools--in that we have high expectations and *most* of our kids will not meet those expectations. Most kids aren't in the top one percent--that's the numbers game. Most kids won't be the best student in a class. It's impossible.

At the same time, this city is filled with high achievers--so there's an ongoing situation of kids feeling they can't match up to what their parents did--that they're not as good.

It's an unhealthy situation that doesn't lend itself to a quick fix. The stress over the economy and unemployment means that parents are going to continue to stress over their own need to stay on top--and that attitude gets passed down to our children.

Only as Recent Teenager says, that kind of pressure feels very different to us than it does to a teenager.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:39 am

Wd can look back because we are beyond the high school years. In our experience, there has been an environment here where many students (and parents) are remarkably outspoken in bragging about their supposed achievements. More modesty and good taste would help. There is an environment whereby some students enjoy disheartening and discouraging other students by openly bragging about their SAT score (perfect or close to), the number of special community service schemes they have completed (typically arranged by parents, may involve volunteering at an orphanage in Vietnam or some such to be as "impressive" as possible). That translates into massive mom and dad managing of the teen, lots of $$$, and parental manipulation. Every kid doesn't have these "resources" by any means. These things look impressive on paper for college applications. There is a competitive streak which leads some students (and parents) to wish to make their "dominance" clear to the mass of generally high-achieving students here.
For a start, let's start re-thinking our public presentation to our peers and associates and be in more good taste. Thank you.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I think that both Maria and OhlonePar made comments that resonate with me. When we give our children too many material things, they don't understand the connection between hard work and rewards. When our schools have very high expectations, they are not acknowledging the fact that many students will be left behind because those high bars are not realistic for them with the abilities they have. There needs to be more resources for all kinds of students, not just the highest performers. We have a culture of winners and high achievers in Palo Alto, but not every kid is a star and not every parent is a star. Most of us just keep on trying. Let's not blame, but instead reach across the playing field and help each other do a better job of raising healthy children who are realistic about their strengths and weaknesses and can cope with life's disappointments.

Posted by HB
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2009 at 1:49 pm

This news is just heartbreaking.

Not knowing the details of these children, it's hard to say what went wrong, but it does seem we have a crisis. Of course now we need "improved support," counseling, etc., but once it is past, I would like to see the district place a greater emphasis on building communities. This should be done within schools and within classrooms. The biggest social problems in middle school come straight out of elementary school, and that then feeds into high school.

Get it right from the start, and there will be much less catchup.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 26, 2009 at 2:33 pm

The students need a voice in what would help them and what is making them stressed - I think that was the point JP Blanchard's mom was trying to make. Sometimes the kids may know what's best.

Posted by Sophie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Thank you to JP's mother for speaking publicly. I'm thinking that it can't be an easy thing to do. Putting yourself out there for better or worse, to try to make a difference is courageous. I am listening.
Thank you.

Posted by Karver
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by A Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I couldn't agree with Ms. Blanchard more. Listening to the kids is the one thing most PA schools rarely try. No matter how understanding and positive a parent is, when the child goes to school, it's the teachers and administrators who are responsible there, and that's a huge part of a kid's life.

Posted by Another former Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 26, 2009 at 6:07 pm

I totally agree with JP's mother. My heart aches for her family.

Our teen had a miserable time at Gunn. The school refused to make requested accomodations for our teen's clinical depression. We asked them to lighten the homework load and base grades more on tests (since the material was being learned). The resource teachers in special ed. were NOT empowered to advocate accomodations for their students. We worried about suicide all year.

Will Gunn take action and follow through, or just offer another parent education night on student stress?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Some things that the schools could do to reduce student stress.

Cut out all busy homework, coloring, posters, things to hang on walls to make classrooms good to visitors.

Cut out group projects, or at least keep them to a minimum, and give them a lower percentage grade. Getting the kids together becomes a major source of stress for parents and kids.

Make projects and long term homework due on Thursdays or Fridays rather than Mondays or Tuesdays. This gives the students and families less stress over weekends.

Make sure all projects are due before long weekends, winter and spring breaks or staff development days. Let the students have some time off or time to pursue college applications without having to choose between homework or college prep.

Some things parents can do to relieve stress.

Ask your kids about things other than grades and homework. Ask them about their friends, their lunchtimes, their commutes and their fun. Give them time to talk to you about the fun things and then follow up with asking if they had any problems that day.

Give your kids time to have fun - with you and with their friends. Let them have their friends over and join in with their fun only if they invite you. Get to know their friends, but don't be an embarrassment. Get to know the parents of their friends and agree realistic rules about curfews, etc. so that they are all on the same playing field.

Don't give your kids too much discretionary money. It is better for them to ask for money when it is needed rather than have more than they really need e.g. if they want to see a movie give them money then. They can learn to budget if you give them a smaller allowance to cover lunches and incidentals and be given fun money occasionally.

Find some outlet for your kids (if they can't find it for themselves) that doesn't involve challenge or competition. Youth clubs, pickup sports, hangout places (properly supervised) are all ideal. Also make sure that there are other adults in your kids lives other than you, their teachers and their coaches. Teachers and coaches can be special in their lives, but an adult who has no "agenda" in their lives can become more important as someone they are able to talk to about life problems.

My thoughts, for what they are worth.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I think what I'd really like to see is some way that teens could talk to a mental health pro with a guarantee of confidentiality. Ideally, that professional would get the kid's permission to talk to the parents, but I think we've got a situation where teens don't talk to adults because they don't want their parents to know stuff.

Posted by A Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Mental health professionals must talk to the parents about what they and the teen talk about. It wouldn't be helpful not to anyway. What I'd really like are safe and sane schools.

Posted by not another BP parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Recent Teenager and Respect Your Children:
The most intelligent, thoughtful, and aware comments of all of them. Thank you. I hope other parents are listening to their comments.
As a mom of a 17 year old at Gunn, I live every day worrying about how and if he'll make it through his last year as a senior. I am so thrilled at this point with the huge successes of his new friendships and peer attachments. I have finally realized through his suicidal thoughts, severe anxiety and depression for most of his time in high school, how LITTLE worries over colleges and grades truly, truly are.
If your child is unhappy and fighting depression and anxiety every moment of every day -- what do grades and AP classes matter if now your teen sees death as their only respite?? College, grades, test scores matter not at all - let's just get these kids through what is clearly a difficult time for many if not most of them.
They have the rest of their lives, if we're lucky enough for them to to be around, to focus on whatever else, once they've made it through this hormonally-challenging period that steeps them into despair before they can learn that the very next day or week or month, it will all be alright and manageable once again.
They sure as heck don't need MORE academic demands - aren't they already telling us how overwhelmed they are academically?
They WILL be fine, if we don't "beat them to death" with academic pressure right now. That is what we need to be listening to, and how to help support them. My gosh - these are incredibly smart kids already! We don't need to worry they won't be smart enough without 10 more AP classes to take or filling every waking moment of theirs with a dozen activities.
Let them be, and let them be kids without worrying about everything in their lives.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:32 pm

A Palo Alto parent,

I agree that you want the family involved--however, some kids avoid getting help because they don't want their parents to know. In some cases, the parent is the root of the problem.

Posted by holistic approach
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2009 at 1:10 am

I wish Likens and Skelley weren't the two administrators brought up in this article -- the exemplars of giving lip service to listening but keeping their own counsel regardless. I'm sure they do care about the kids, but solutions will be found (only) if they are already on their agenda. Unlikely to come from "listening" to the community. Save your breath for a less frustrating and fruitless activity -- powerlessness is a big aspect of depression...

Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 27, 2009 at 1:15 am

My deepest condolences to Ms. Blanchard, and to everyone affected by the tragedies.

I can't help wondering--do Palo Alto students know it's okay to go to a community college for a couple years, and transfer to a four year college? Or that college can be postponed? Or even--hold on to your hats--that it isn't necessarily for everyone?

Or are they taught from the cradle that they must go to an Ivy League school and study be an engineer, lawyer, or doctor? I've written this before, but I feel that kids in Palo Alto are among the most pressured (not always by parents, but by school, the community, keeping up with peers, et cetera) in the country. Yes, it's good to learn to cope with stress, as someone above mentioned, but not to this extraordinary extent. It simply should not be this way.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:25 am

Nora -

You bring up a great point and although kids "know" that community college, etc. is an option, would they admit it in public? Would their parents? One positive side effect of the economic downturn may be that will be easier to admit you are going to a cc and blame it on financial, not academic reasons.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:28 am

This has been an interesting thread. My condolences to all whose lives are touched by these sad events. I agree that the teens in our community have the answers here and that more academic manipulation will only cause more suffering. One thing I've noticed and which I believe has contributed to the angst of many of our teens is the bullying that goes on among them. There is a great deal of cruelty among the teens and I believe it is a direct result of modeling by parents and of all this pressure to perform. The Palo Alto community encourages and rewards people who are unkind. When parents are cruel, boastful, exclusive, competitive, and ruthless, children follow suit and take out their own pain on others. The cruelty moves down the line to those less able to defend themselves. Cruelty is commonplace among our teens and if I were the principal I would be addressing that rather than rehashing the math curriculum. I have seen the schools reward individuals for this behavior. One of the meanest boys at JLS was given the reward of performing at the graduation ceremony. If you are vicious to your peers you are accountable for the suffering you cause. It is the responsibility of parents to teach kindness, patience, inclusion, non-judgement, etc and we have failed.

Posted by Local parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2009 at 10:25 am

I have to agree with the last writer. I think we have become so focused on academic success and right colleges that we have forgotten what is really important. Gunn High school has become like series of other High Schools in Peninsula that focuses so much on academic success, that they forget there are other skills needed in the real world besides being good at Math, As an upper manager in Bay Area I have seen an surge of recent college graduates who apply for jobs who have top academic honors form top universities, but no social skills. They are almost never hired. One thing I am amazed by how many of them are graduates of Gunn, Lowell, or Monte Vista High school. Instead of working on math curriculum, may be the school should concentrate on understanding how teens feel. Stop rewarding teens just based on academic performance, and also kindness and community service.

Posted by gunn_parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 27, 2009 at 10:57 am

This has been an interesting thread and I love the input from Recent Teenager and Respect Your Children--very true.

The bottom line is "LISTEN to your children"; when they are stressed , they are; when school-work is challenging, it is; when friends let them down, they need your love and reassurance even more. When they need you, they do. BE THERE FOR THEM. Palo Alto is an extremely affluent community, and we moved from a not-so-affluent community and are frankly quite horrified at what we see/hear. Parents leaving their homes to teen-parties with alcohol freely available, parents off on their own vacation during finals week, parents unwilling to accept anything less than an A and a place on a sports team and a music award and on and on.

But what I don't understand is why should Gunn HS alter its grading system for individual cases as suggested in one posting? The school provides several tracks and options based on your child's ability, let them choose. My own child suffered when we put him on a much-too-high track, thanks to a teacher we quickly changed that. That same child went through depression and heartbreak over the almost-inevitable teenage-breakup, cut classes, broke school codes, and had to face the grade consequences. He was also counselled by the school's services but we sought additional outside help. I don't see why his grading system had to be different from his classmates' because of his emotional condition. It is for the parents to support and love their child irrespective of the grades,to assure him/her of that love, and to realize that if your child buckles under emotional pressue, the pressures of the top UCs or Ivy leagues are not meant for your child. The community college option mentioned here is a great one, let the child mature until he /she takes great steps.

Gunn or any public institution can certainly try, but they cannot find ideal solutions for each individual case, families and commmunities need to work and change to provide solutions for their children too. The "village' fails when it cannot bring up happy, healthy children. To that extent, I agree that we also need to bring up our children to be compassionate instead of ruthlessly competitive, and alter the bragging behavior we see so much of in both parents and children.

Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 27, 2009 at 11:29 am

Last night I was following the coments fo someparents, here on forum. They were talking so much about test scores and much better they are this year. Some parents were still complaining about why some schools are still law. I felt so sick to my stomack that we still cannot get it. Our children are dying inpart for all the stress we parents, community, teachers and school admininstrators put them through and we still not pleased with the results. I thinkk our children will stop having suicidal thoughts when we stop measuring thier achievement by looking at how good they did. Shame on all of us. The school administrators need to insert in our children's minds that community colleges are good and they should not be ashamed to go to them. Three years ago a tenager relative of mine tryied to cut her veins becaause she was not accepted in a college on the east. Luckily she was not successful and had a second change. At that point students were not aware of how easy is to dy by getting hit by the train. Now she is healing and is attending community college, but it took her a long time. She was fed that she had to go to good 4 year colleges. No one ever bhought community colleges or san Jose State to the college fairs. I hope we start making changes soon

Posted by Judy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 27, 2009 at 11:45 am

So many of the comments I read from Palo Alto residents not surprisingly identify school and the attendant stressors as one of the most signficant contributors to teen suicides. While this is undoubtedly a factor for some adolescents, so are problems with friendships (huge!), dating, self-image and family issues all of which can be powerful contributors to depressive thoughts and feelings. Add to this mix the immature frontal lobe development of teenagers, their tendency to act impulsively and difficulty imagining the long-ranging consequences of their actions, the unfortunate accessibility of the train tracks and you have a very volatile situation indeed.

Posted by Baron Park Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I feel terrible what happened to the teens at Gunn!!!! But I had a child at Gunn and is now in College, and have a younger daughter at Gunn, and I also went to Gunn and graduated in 76' It has changed alot since I went!!! It does not matter how smart you are!! or what your GPA is, if you do not have a emotional balance in your life, grades dont't really matter!I'm in the health field and deppression is not the schools fault, nor the train tracks fault! If parents spent 2x a week maybe a dinner night, and TALK TO THEIR CHILDREN! maybe they can get a pulse on how their child is doing,Like the good old days ! But parents are to busy? If you want to end your life you do not talk about it you just do it! and if the kids cannot talk to their parents about the little things then they definitely cannot talk to their parents about the BIG things! KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CHILD, in all aspects!! of their life! The signs are their,if your child is going threw something or is in turmoil. (Example)Maybe to happy? or everything is fine? or withdrawn? Come on Parents these are teens ! this is a hard age! everything should not be great!! I would be more worried if either of my children came home and said they were just fine and no worries!!Life if hard and it comes fast and furious!!! Take your child to their Primary Care Doctor the minute you have that gut feeling as a parent, talk to your childs Doctor about your concerns, don't enable, able your child!!!
Deppression is treatable!!! and then there is always 911 for help.
I no some of this because I work in E.R at Stanford, and I see alot of Parents that are in Denial about their children, or maybe they don't want to see it,or Maybe they are to busy with work? There is no price tag amount for your child!! Because when they are gone you can't bring them back!!no matter how much money you have, should have, could have, won't work in this case!! Love Love Love your kids!!

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Cruelty seems to be part of adolescence, unfortunately. I suspect that Judy's right in that social issues play a big part. However, I suspect the extremely competitive atmosphere exacerbates the social problems.

There's so little give in the situation these days. When I was in school, I really screwed up one year, but I did well the next and was able to attend a very good college. I knew I could always attend one of the UCs as a fallback. It's just not the same today. You have a bad year and it takes time to overcome it. (I know someone who did, in fact, do that--but it took a while and straight As before she could transfer to a top tier college. She's a wiser and more interesting person as a result though.)

The reality of adolescence is that kids take chances and they do some dumb things. The competition is such that there's little give in the system for just being fallible and human.

Posted by Planet Palo Alto
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 27, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto and graduated from Gunn in 1998 (I now live out of the area). Kudos to Ms. Blanchard for advocating better communication with the students themselves, not just with parents and school/health professionals. I agree that there is a real disconnect between students and adults and was disturbed by Superintendent Skelly's comment that the school community should simply behave as if this situation is "business as usual".

In my experience Gunn was indeed a pressure-cooker environment. I remember how *high stakes* everything seemed, how one's entire adult potential seemed predicated on acing the SATs, on loading up the class schedule with AP and honors courses, on having the right extra-curriculars to put on college applications, and on getting in to that prestigious school. Having lived outside that environment for several years I now understand that there are many different paths to success and happiness in life, but as a high school student in the thick of things I didn't have that perspective and those were anxious times.

Success in that environment doesn't just mean doing well, it means placing in the highest percentiles of life's measurements. Add in the physical and emotional development of adolescence plus a sometimes cliqueish and materialistic social environment and yes, that is a lot of pressure. In addition I think that Gunn had of a lot of great opportunities and resources for the star student, but less available for those who had potential but needed extra help, and less still for those who weren't college-oriented at all.

Chronic stress is not healthy. It is known to have various adverse effects on physical and mental health in adults, and in particular is linked to depression. Why would we expect differently from teenagers? Anxiety and depression are real problems in adolescents and more care should be taken to identify and intervene with students who show signs of mental illness. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between "normal" teenage angst and a more serious issue and sometimes these problems do work themselves out on their own, but isn't it better to be proactive?

Posted by Another parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I agree with so much of what is being brought up here. Yes cruelty is part of adolescence, but that doesn't mean it can't be addressed. One of the most distasteful aspects of our society is the violence and cruelty, which are commonplace. One could argue that by letting them fight it out on the high school campus we are simply preparing them for life in the world we have made. I believe that in the way we educate, we have the opportunity to model a different approach and send them out armed with a different message. Just as we support the green movement that is sweeping our society, why can't we have a movement to model and reward being a good human being. Ted Kennedy's influence is so much on my mind today, his endless work on behalf of the lesser of these. I'd like that taught in our schools. Anyway, jobs involving high levels of math are being exported!

Posted by Reader
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Thank you, Nora Charles, for your reminder about community college. Many Foothill graduates go on to top UCs, Stanford and the Ivy League. See Web Link It's a great option for a lot of kids for all kinds of reasons.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Suicide contagion outbreaks occur in all socioeconomic groups across all cultures and have done for thousands of years.

The fact is that we now have the clear evidence on how to prevent and end these outbreaks from the rigorous studies on this matter by the CDC and the World Health Organization.

That some press and some therapists are still not following the CDC/WHO protocols may well constitute professional malpractice.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Teen suicide: the next epidemic?
Web Link

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2009 at 9:07 pm

The CDC and WHO have done benchmarking and best practice analysis of this matter of suicide contagion.
Trying to link these suicides to parental/school misconduct or dietary choice is not scientific or valid.

Read the who/CDC protocols on this matter, are we in in compliance or not?

We need to review the actions of the the relevant agencies since May and reform or replace them.
In any company this is standard practice, and the action would have taken place within days, if not hours.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 28, 2009 at 11:35 am


Thanks for the link to the Saffo article. It's a thoughtful piece.
I hope we're not on the verge of an epidemic--what a terrible waste that would be.

Posted by Yes
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 28, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Mrs. Blanchard is amazing. That's all I can say.

Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 28, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I completely agree with OhlonePar's comment on August 26, 9:20 pm because that would be absolutely brilliant.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Another parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Student, Forgive me for my ignorance, but I though once you were in high school you were guaranteed confidentiality between you and your health professional. Is this not the case? I know that my son, at the age of 14, chose to see his doctor in privacy and that she then informed me that she does not have to reveal to me what he shares with her unless he agrees to it. Although I thought this seemed soon for his age, I have respected his wishes and am now relatively in the dark when he goes to the doctor. Fortunately I don't believe anything big has transpired in his health, but I thought it was a doctor patient thing now that she can only reveal to me what he is willing for her to reveal. Is it not the same with mental health professionals? It certainly should be. For example, what if the parent is the cause of the problem? I believe young people have the right to an adult outside the family who is a professional and to whom they can confide without being betrayed to the parents. This seems to me the least we should guarantee them. Anyone know the actual rules here?

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm

PAMF has some good info on their website about privacy laws governing teen health services & confidentiality in CA:

Web Link

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2009 at 10:52 am

When we discussed the issue of confidentiality last spring, a therapist said that while they could meet in confidence, any ongoing treatment would require some sort of parental consultation. I think there are ways around it through the courts--but not surprisingly minors are minors.

I understand why the laws would be what they are. However, given how awry communication can be between parents and teens, I wish there were some sort of workaround. My sense is that teens talk to other teens, but they don't talk to adults. It wasn't much different in my day, but the lack of adult perspective then wasn't great either.

And just to let out my pet hobby horse--I don't think the fact that our schools have gotten so large is helping. It's that much more likely that kids will fall through the cracks.

Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 30, 2009 at 11:11 am

You just can't be a minor. You have to wait until you get old enough to get confidential help. I see why the laws are like that too.

Posted by ??
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2009 at 12:44 pm

if the parents are the problem, isn't there a way to get the whole family help? why does it have to be a minor going around the parents or vice versa. Likely, a student with serious problems needs and wants to get help for the parents too. What's the term - a holistic approach?

Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 30, 2009 at 1:11 pm

parents aren't always the root of all problems.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2009 at 6:14 pm


I think the parents who post here would like to think that if our children needed counseling that a)we'd notice and b)they could come to us.

My sense though is that even when the parents aren't the "problem" that there's not a lot of communication--I get the sense that a lot of kids feel they need to kind of put up a front for their parents.

The irony is that parents will often do the same thing to protect their kids. I've yet to meet an adult who didn't do something incredibly dumb as a teenager, but I don't know how many have admitted that to their kids.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2009 at 6:51 pm

In the past mothers were blamed for the psychiatric illness of their children.
These theories has been proven to completely false.

In the 60s R D Laing and Gregory Bateson blamed the parents for psychiatric illness, the MRI, in Palo Alto was a major proponent of this dangerous myth.

We now know that these theories are in valid and not based on science.

The WHO and the CDC have scientific evidenced based recommendations on how to prevent and stop teenage suicide contagion.

We should follow the scientific evidence.

Any parent knows that the peer groups of adolescents are a powerful influence on behavior, particularlyon those who have a biochemical vulnerability.

It is is dysfunctional invoke false 60s theories of mental illness. Parents are, in fact, a valuable support system when combined with competent psychiatric medication based interventions.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Of course parents are not always the cause of their children's illnesses. However, at times one or both parents are the cause of the problems, issues, illnesses, etc. It is possible for a young person to have problems they simply can not comfortably address with a parent. This is why a young person needs access to a trustworthy adult to whom they can confide if necessary and receive comfort and perhaps advice. My children have such access. I hope they feel they can talk with me about everything without my judging them, but if they felt they could not tell me I hope they would go to someone, even if it hurt my feelings. I would be far more heart broken if they had troubles and did not feel they had anyone to turn to.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2009 at 8:40 pm

traditionally kids would talk to a God parent,or minister.
They do not have any financial conflict of interest.

Therapist have a wide range of competence, a psychiatrists from Stanford has peer supervision and the ability to provide medical treatment, that is the gold standard.

Others, who call themselves therapist, may have no such quality controls, qualifications, supervision, medical training nor medical review.
It is basically Caveat Emptor "Let the buyer beware" for uninformed parents.

The CDC and WHO have a clear research based recommendation, the Stanford Psychiatrist quoted supports this evidence based approach.

The multi faith program event this Monday at 7 pm in Palo Alto is also a good, it has no financial conflict of interest.

Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 30, 2009 at 10:48 pm

ohlonepar, you make a lot of sense. I don't understand any of the other comments on this thread. I'll be okay and graduate and then get even better.

Posted by Another parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2009 at 3:51 pm

To anyone reading this who may be feeling a lot of pain, or who may be considering doing anything irreversible, I beg you to find someone to talk with. Please believe that there are many people around you who would be honored to try and help you. As a parent in Palo Alto, I have probably seen you at the grocery store, or handed you a snack after a game, or helped out in your classroom, and it breaks my heart to think that any one of you does not know how precious you are to me and to many of the people in this town. We try so hard but so often blow it as parents, teachers, friends. Please give us a chance until one of us gets it right.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 1, 2009 at 1:40 am


People have axes to grind, which may or may not have anything to do with the main discussion. Main thing for you is to hang in there. Life doesn't always get easier, but it does get easier to handle life's ups and downs (okay, we're really talking downs here.) Depression can be acute, but it's also transitory.

When I was in high school and college I knew very few fellow students who felt they could talk to their parents about everything. I had a pretty savvy mother, but even she was kind of shocked by how different things were for my generation--and I wasn't telling her about it. I felt she wouldn't understand.

Decades later, I still think she wouldn't have understood in some ways--in part because as an adult she had a better than we did about how risky some of our behavior was . . .

But, anyway, sometimes it's hard to talk to one's parents because they do worry and with that worrying comes judging and opinions. It's almost inevitable. And, honestly, the suicides scare we parents deeply.

Anyway, I think with real fondness of the various adults who did take the time to talk to me and listen to me when I was younger. Some of the best were younger than my parents--late 20s, early 30s--they were close enough in age to understand, but old enough to have some perspective. One of the good things about summer jobs is that you tend to meet a range of adults who aren't parents, friend's parents or teachers. And, again, that gives you some new perspectives.

When all's said and done, high school just isn't that long a time in an entire life. And it's less important in the long run than it's made to seem.

Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 1, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Thank you Ms. Blanchard for speaking out. I see two continuous refrains on these commentary boards re: suicide. One from adults, one from teens.

One, several imperious demands to shut down the commentary thread due to some antiquated CDC guidelines. Calling out the Weekly for responsibility if we have another tragedy.

Two, kids availing themselves of the anonymity of the forum and sharing some of what is on their minds. Actually THANKING the Weekly for providing them a place to speak about what they are thinking.

Realize that's of twofold benefit, they can vent in relative safety, AND knowing their parents and educators, even law enforcement reads these forums, they also get the chance to let us know what's on their minds.

In most cases, adults DO know better. In this case, I think the kids are trying to tell us something. The problem with a lot of parents in this City is they think they know everything based on Googling and research, when sometimes just listening to what a kid (or any person in distress) is really saying is the smartest, most compassionate thing to do.

As I stated once before, better to do it on here than on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Bebo where with nothing other than peer perspective, things CAN get blown out of proportion or idealized.

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