Earlier this month several of my friends who routinely commute to New York City for work posted photos of a crowded Grand Central Terminal on their Facebook pages. Trains in and out of the station were delayed for hours and commuters were frustrated. What they didn’t know, was why. Soon, their frustration turned to sorrow and compassion when they heard the delays were a result of a 16 year-old boy tragically ending his life by jumping in front of a train.
Sadly, this isn’t uncommon. And, authorities believe, this teen may have been compelled to take his own life by the suicide of a friend in the same manner just a few weeks before. While we don’t know why these kids decided to end their own lives, we do know one thing. Kids are under more pressure today than ever before and it could be killing them.
Kids Under Pressure
Higher expectations across the board – school, sports, arts, friends, and on social media, have raised the bar for today’s kids. Not only are they expected to get higher grades, they are held to higher academic standards than in the past. To remain competitive in a global economy, four year-olds in kindergarten now are held to the standards first graders were just a couple of years ago. Middle schoolers are expected to turn in high school level work (my own 7th grader told me that his social studies teacher explained that they were doing 10th grade work).
In sports, kids are expected to commit to year-round training for their sport of choice – and if you don’t you’re off the team. Parents, anxious about paying high college tuition costs, are pushing their kids harder and harder in the hopes that they’ll be offered a scholarship to help defer the cost.
Kids have always been under peer pressure to behave and dress to fit in with their group. Today, the cost of doing so is so much higher. While there is widening acceptance for kids who are different, in some communities and within peer groups there’s still an undercurrent of hostility towards kids who march to their own beat.
Social media adds another layer of complexity to the puzzle. Even kids who have good friends can suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and feelings of alienation when they see their other kids having fun as they sit at home scrolling through their Instagram feed on a Saturday night. Cyberbullying and cybershaming add more fuel to the fire – and as parents have become more aware of it, kids have also become more cunning – the messages can be subtle and coded so only those in the inner circle would fully understand its meaning. Nonetheless, they still sting.
We Rapped All Night About Suicide…
Teen suicide is the number two cause of death for American kids. According to research from the CDC and posted on Staticbrain, 4,600 kids 10-24 commit suicide each year (that’s 12 per day) and there are an average of 575,000 suicide attempts by annually. Even scarier, 20% of high school students have “seriously considered” suicide. Moms of boys take special note, 81% of all teen suicides are males. This is more than just teen angst. This is terrifying. This is a parent’s worst nightmare. And, as the mom of a teenage boy, scares me very much.
Moms and dads, start taking to your kids about stress, pressure,and depression, and how to handle it. Be there for them when they start talking, listen for the tiniest clues that something’s not right. Give them strategies to deal with stress, or if you even the slightest sense that you can’t handle it or it may be something more don’t wait – refer your child to a professional who can help.
This epidemic of teen suicide has to be addressed now. Not just reported in the newspapers or treated as an inconvenience of commuter life. We have to start talking about this now – before we lose one more precious young life.