Unlocking the black box of the teenage mind . . .
Why do some kids get into so much trouble even as their friends and siblings thrive? How can families get involved earlier, before problems escalate? What lessons can the rest of us parents, teachers, religious leaders, lawmakers draw from a school that offers therapy?
In search of answers to these key questions, Pulitzer Prizewinning writer David L. Marcus gained unfettered access to students, staff, and parents at the Academy at Swift River in western Massachusetts.
Marcus had an ambitious goal: he wanted to offer a detailed, uncompromising look inside the secret world of American teenagers in the twenty-first century a world that adults urgently need to understand. Known for combining rigorous academics, wilderness survival, and group therapy in an intensive fourteen-month program, the Academy at Swift River helps troubled teenagers regain their emotional health.
WHAT IT TAKES TO PULL ME THROUGH
focuses on four remarkable kids (real kids, not composites), who run the demographic gamut:
a southern girl whose privileges cannot save her from sinking into drug abuse and unsafe sex
the self-destructive son of teachers who is grappling with his anger about being adopted
a black kid from a tough New York neighborhood who is silenced by consuming depression
a once high-achieving Florida girl broken by the death of her mother
While uncovering the circumstances that led these kids to be sent to Swift River drug use, violence, theft, Internet addiction, eating disorders, suicide attempts, promiscuity Marcus opens the black box of the teenage mind. He also explores the parents' stories and perspectives. Looking beyond the problems, he examines what families, teachers, and counselors did to get these kids' lives back on the right track.
The book concludes with a practical "Memo to Parents," in which Marcus identifies warning signs to watch for and discusses possible remedies and other approaches that schools and communities can use to help America's twenty-nine million adolescents. Among his suggestions:
Listen and watch closely for kids' low self-confidence, poor social skills, dwindling enthusiasm for sports and constructive pastimes, a feeling of being an outsider in the family, constant lying, or a change in appearance.
Know all of your kids' friends, and stay in constant touch with their parents. Don't be afraid to call them when you suspect something is amiss. Know which friends are in trouble.
Change our national priorities by pushing to make mental health services available to all teens and parents. Rethink the way we plan communities, and design open spaces that welcome teenagers.
A revealing look inside the complex world of troubled teenagers, WHAT IT TAKES TO PULL ME THROUGH
is a book that will speak to teens, teachers, parents, all of us.
has had an eclectic career that has taken him from dodging mortar fire in Africa to teaching Huckleberry Finn
in a classroom in rural Massachusetts. Marcus shared a Pulitzer Prize, spent a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and worked as a teacher before publishing a book about American teenagers.
In two decades as a writer for the Boston Globe
, the Dallas Morning News
, and the Miami Herald
, Marcus was a columnist, roving national reporter, and foreign correspondent. He covered the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. military invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, the return of Hong Kong to China, and civil wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola, and Soviet Georgia. Returning to domestic affairs, he covered education for U.S. News & World Report
His freelance articles have appeared in Vanity Fair
, and the New York Times
. He has been a guest on NPR's Morning Edition
and Televisa's Spanish-language show Contrapunto
(Counterpoint). For his work on a series about violence against women around the world, Marcus shared the top honor in journalism, the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. Earlier, he was part of a team of finalists for a Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism, for a series called "Hidden Wars."
Marcus spent four years researching his book, which tells the story of a group of teenagers who were sent to a therapeutic program in the foothills of the Berkshires. Houghton Mifflin has just published the nonfiction narrative, What It Takes to Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble and How Four of Them Got Out
While a student at Brown University, he was elected president of the senior class and graduated with honors. He then studied Latin American literature at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. Later, as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, he studied urban planning and immigration. He has been a writer in residence at the Tuck School of Dartmouth College, a visiting lecturer at the University of Houston, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the University of Redlands in California, and a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts.
Unlike most education reporters, Marcus has worked as a teacher. He recently spent a year as a visiting fellow at Deerfield Academy, where he taught American literature and writing courses. Now a contributing editor at U.S. News
, he is also a visiting scholar at Ithaca College's Park School of Communications.
For tour information, visit his Web site: http://www.davemarcus.com
Advance Praise for What It Takes to Pull Me Through
"What It Takes to Pull Me Through is fascinating. More than simply a cautionary tale, this extremely well-written book provides useful insight and a welcome dose of hope. It's the closest thing you'll find to a road map for raising adolescents and keeping them safe." Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors, Dry, and Magical Thinking
"Compelling, empathetic, and hopeful, What It Takes to Pull Me Through is for parents and teens alike. It will be of special use to families experiencing emotional trauma or fracture, offering both solace and a road map of survival that goes far beyond self-help." Alissa Quart, author of Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers
"What Marcus uncovers is startling, heartbreaking, and finally redemptive. This book reads like a thriller. A thriller about adolescence, about how we love and how we lose each other and what it takes to help a child find her way home." Alison Smith, author of Name All the Animals
"Here is more wisdom and guidance about child-rearing than an entire shelf of how-to self-help books combined. This is journalism at its best: unflinching, meticulous, gripping, true." Sue Halpern, author of The Book of Hard Things
"One of the most revealing insights for parents of teens in this wonderful book is how familiar these troubled kids are to us. It shows just how thin the line is between the world of the normal adolescent and those who are fighting for their emotional health." Daniel J. Kindlon, professor of psychology, Harvard School of Public Health, and author of Tough Times, Strong Children and coauthor of Raising Cain
"At long last a seasoned journalist confronts one of the most puzzling questions of our time: why decent kids with good prospects go bad. What It Takes to Pull Me Through will surely inspire soul-searching discussions among teens, teachers, and parents." Madeleine Blais, author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle
"By combining no-limits reporting with a wide-open heart, David Marcus allows us to witness something of a miracle: a group of teenagers in the harrowing and hopeful process of finding out who they are." George Colt, author of The Big House
"David L. Marcus does what nonfiction writers do when they're at their very best get inside the skin of a character and feel everything. These kids breathe fire and hope, break your heart and heal it, and then show how teenagers can wander through the darkest woods toward sunlight. In all, a profoundly moving journey." Ron Suskind, author of A Hope in the Unseen and The Price of Loyalty
"A compelling, intimate account of developmental breakdown and the road to recovery. [Marcus's] immersion in the Academy at Swift River offers invaluable insight into the complexities of coming of age." Elizabeth Aries, Amherst College, editor of Adolescent Behavior
Facts from What It Takes to Pull Me Through
Youth suicide rates are now three times the rates of the 1960s.
New drugs like Ecstasy and crystal meth have lured some kids into a culture of drug use.
The use of psychiatric medicines among children and teenagers has doubled in ten years.
Nearly 25 percent of eighth-graders have used illegal drugs. About 31 percent of all high school students (five million kids) binge-drink at least once a month.
The Internet has provided many kids with access to more information, but much of what they see on-line is unfiltered and simply incorrect. Parents often have no idea how much sexual imagery their children see or how many predators contact kids, even on computers with filters.
Kids from all walks of life, not just inner-city kids, can take a wrong turn. Millions of suburban teenagers sons and daughters of lawyers, doctors, business executives, and professors get into trouble with drugs, alcohol, running away, self-mutilation, depression, and declining grades.
To understand the parents' perspective, Marcus spent time with mothers and fathers as they tried to repair damaged relations with their adolescent sons and daughters. He attended family therapy with the parents and the kids.
Parents have no idea how their teenage sons and daughters spend their days. Many don't recall the daily slights of middle school or the humiliations of high school. They don't understand the pressures that kids face from adults and from peers. They are oblivious to newer threats, such as raves, Ecstasy parties, and Internet addiction.
From personal experience, Marcus knows about kids who soar in high school and those who stir up trouble. When he was seventeen, he attracted attention by writing a humorous first-person story for the New York Times about applying to college. That same year, though, he and his friends were arrested for drinking whiskey and shooting out streetlights with a BB gun.
Marcus relocated his family from suburban Washington, D.C., to a small town in New England to research the book. He thought the move would be temporary. But the lessons he learned about the perils of raising teenagers in the suburbs convinced him to sell his suburban house and put down roots in a town where shopkeepers know their customers by name.
Hearing so many teens complain about parents who devoted too much time to work and socializing prompted Marcus to abandon his life as a high-paid, frequent-flying Washington journalist. He took a drastic pay cut to become a teacher in order to have more time with his own children.
Academy at Swift River, Group 23 Admissions Summaries
Name: Bianca Suarez Bittman
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
Presenting problems: Lying, sneaking out with boyfriend, cutting classes, disrespect to father
Mother: Teresa, nurse (deceased)
Father: Alan, network administrator at a college
Remarks: Bianca hasn't dealt with mother's death from cancer
Siblings: Twin brother and older sister; both are doing well
Name: Mary Alice Chambliss
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Presenting problems: Eating disorder, drug use, smoking, promiscuity, refuses to be with family
Mother: Lillian, dermatologist, on leave from her practice (currently full-time mother)
Father: Burns, business executive
Remarks: Mary Alice is a "mystery kid"; no obvious cause of problems; family appears to have it all
Siblings: Three younger siblings
Name: Tyrone Harriston
Hometown: Queens, New York
Presenting problems: Refuses to attend school, plays video games till 3 a.m., suicidal thoughts
Mother: Natalie, phone company technician
Father: Lerone, various jobs
Remarks: Bitter divorce, dad forced to leave house
Siblings: Older sister (unmarried, with toddler)
Name: D.J. Pandowski
Hometown: Suburban New Jersey
Presenting problems: Plays with fire, ran away, impulsive, poor grades
Mother: Janice, teacher
Father: Teodor, teacher
Remarks: D.J. is adopted, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Notes on some other members of the group:
Andy: Drinks and drives, defiant with parents
Ashley: Lives on Park Avenue in Manhattan, has problems with boys, possible drug use, upset about adoption
Trevor: Used Ecstasy, cocaine, and other drugs with his friends at home, almost died from drug use
Phil "the philosopher": Lived around the world, used heroin at age fifteen, expelled from four schools
Tanner ("Teddy Bear"): Drinks, hangs out with a gang, bought a gun
Eva "the everything kid": Anorexia, bulimia, rape, alcohol, suicide attempt
Willow: Cocaine, heroin, abusive boyfriend
Counselor: Tanya Beecher, earned master's in social work from Smith College
Teacher liaison: Gennarose Pope, studied English literature at Columbia University
Note: These summaries are based on information provided to the admissions office when the families applied. The names of students and their families have been changed, as has one hometown.