Emo. It/they deserve better than the article in the Chicago Tribune yesterday. They don’t deserve the “cute” article title. They deserve better than to all be lumped into a category of trying “the latest cool thing”.
“Emo” is a broad, non-heterogeneous categorization. Some of these teens (even that age bracket is an over-simplification) are in it for the look. Some are in it for the shock value. Some so that they can belong to a group or have an identity. The attendant psychological symptoms run a spectrum from “normal” to personality disorder to major depression with high risk of suicide. To deal with these teens (to interact with them, to live with them) you must be able to separate out those in the “group” who are at real risk (although to a certain extent there is always risk).
Emo groups on MySpace are not necessarily a bad thing. While some will receive feedback/reinforcement that will increase their downward depressive and suicidal spiral, others may be helped by knowing that they are not alone and are able to discuss issues more anonymously and with less stigma (I don’t agree with the article’s statement that many believe “it is ultra-cool to have such mood swings that you are on prescription meds”, more often in my experience the converse of stigma reins).
Prescription medication swapping is certainly a significant and growing problem. I have seen deaths related to folks doing just that. The swapping frequently happens at parties, often mixed with alcohol. The dangers involve not only taking meds prescribed for someone else and mixing substances with a “Russian Roulette” uncertainty of combined effects, but also the consequences of not taking the meds you are prescribed (many psych meds, if stopped abruptly, cause a profound negative rebound/compound of symptoms). Anti-prescription swapping education must be pursued (it is a bigger problem than often thought), not in a fear-inciting way but honestly laying out the possible consequences (combat the “they’re prescription meds, so they must be safe” mentality).
I do agree with the article that “cutting, or self-injuring, that is… most worrisome…”. Cutting is scary. Not, as the article incorrectly states, because you might inadvertently kill yourself, but because it can be addicting, as powerfully as any drug (maybe more so). You are not likely to accidentally cut yourself bad enough to bleed to death. That requires a calculated, willful act; the arteries are relatively deep. The cutting these kids (and adults) undertake is meant to hurt. That hurt can give its own release, it can validate that you exist, it can prove that you can feel. It is scary. That behavior, just like a drug, can spiral into far deadlier activities. A cutter needs help, real serious help, now.
An “emo” teen must be seen as an individual, talked to like an individual, treated as an individual, not as a member of a category or a group identity. Don’t assume that they are trying to be “hip”. Don’t pander. Don’t dismiss. Don’t write/read a “fluff” piece and try to pass it off as investigative reporting (with quotes from “experts”). Don’t assume teens with problems will flag themselves as “emo” (actually most folks with the most severe problems won’t and/or can’t because it takes too much “energy”). As Steve Rhodes wrote in The Beachwood Reporter: “let’s investigate the real sources of their pain”.