Hurt: A book Report

Written By: Rachel Strong
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My last book report was over 15 years ago, and I'm a bit rusty, but here goes (Don't forget: book reports are full of personal opinion, and the opinions herein may or may not reflect those of the administration of

"Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers" by Chap Clark is an excellent book for anyone who works with teens (high school age), has one of their own, or will soon have one of their own.

Chap Clark, a Ph.D., spent part of a sabbatical from teaching at the graduate level to substitute teach at LA's Crescenta Valley High School, one of the highest-performing schools in California. With the permission of the administration, Clark got as close to the teens at CVHS as they would let him. He interviewed students, teachers, and coaches to get an idea of how adolescence has changed.

Clark's premise is that while some things have stayed the same, many things have changed since we were in high school, and that society itself has changed, leaving adolescents behind in a systemic societal abandonment of our youth. As Clark writes:

"As society began to unravel [in the 1960s and 70s], adults found themselves trying to find a safe place, a haven of security and rest. No longer was there energy and health available for giving to others. Instead, adults waged a fight for emotional and relational survival, and this in turn spilled over into the developmental longings of adolescents. ... This rejection, or abandonment, of adolescents is the root of the fragmentation and calloused distancing that are the hallmarks of adolescent culture."

"Hurt" focuses on the World Beneath, the world of today's "mid-adolescents" (ages 14 - 18). The landscape of the World Beneath consists of eight parts:

Peers ("My parents don't know me, my teachers don't know me, even my coach doesn't know me. The only people who really know me are my friends.")

School ("Great! If this is the best it's ever going to get, I might as well kill myself now!")

Family ("I get so angry because no one ever asked me if I wanted to live in two houses. No one ever asked me if it was okay with me having to keep track of which house my schoolbooks are at. No one ever asked me if I wanted to split my life in two!")

Sports ("The pressure to be the biggest and the best pushes kids to use steroids and other supplements, play hurt, and take one for the team. The coaches don't seem to care about your well-being. They just want the trophy and the recognition that come with a championship."

Sex ("Sex is a game and a toy, nothing more.")

Busyness and stress ("I have to work, I have to be with my friends, I have to be up for practice, and I have to live my life. I'm doing okay, so don't hassle me... unless I snore in class.")

Ethics and morality ("It is like this: good and bad are relative. Sometimes I think something is bad when it's not really that bad. And sometimes when I try to do something good, it ends up messing me up. I do the best I can to live my life, and what is good or bad is not something I even think about.")

and The party scene ("No matter how many stupid things you do while drinking (except driving, etc.), it's all worthwhile. Knockin' back beers with your best buds is the way to go.").

When Clark first began his study-that eventually turned into the book-the students at his high school asked a very pointed question: "Why would anyone want to write a book about us?" Clark, with two teenagers (and one soon-to-be teen) of his own at home, started out just wanting to understand his kids. But as he listened to more and more students, he began to wonder if his book would make any difference to anyone. But one day, a junior boy told him, "Tell them our story. Tell them the truth-that nobody cares, that nobody listens, that teachers and coaches and cops and parents don't even know who we are. Tell them that and see if anybody listens. Ha! Not a chance!"

While doing his research and interviews, Clark didn't spend much time on the issues that divide-economic, ethnic, or personal history-and "fringe" issues such as suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. While these issues do influence the way teens view life, they are not the same for every teen. Instead, he chose to focus on the issues that are more visible and more universal-namely parents, school, sports, sex, busyness, morality, peers and parties.

Clark's experience with the students in his school is best summed up by a poem written for him by one of his high school students:

I Wish

I wish I could tell secrets

To someone who would listen,

To someone who wouldn't tell.

I wish I could meet that special someone,

Someone who loves me,

Someone who cares for me.

I whish I could talk to someone,

Someone who would understand,

Someone who wouldn't laugh.

I wish I had a best friend,

Someone I can trust,

Someone I can tell secrets to.

Someone who understands me,

Someone who will grow with me,

Someone I can talk to.

If you have a teen, work with teens, or just have a teen in your life somewhere, I highly recommend "Hurt" by Chap Clark.

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