By: JD Author, Reporter-Journalist
“Sadly enough, the most painful goodbyes are the ones that are left unsaid and never explained.”
― Jonathan Harnisch
When we think of the loss of a teenager, the first thing that comes to mind is “what horrible disease is taking so many of our precious youth from us”? As of July 2016, the American Association of Pediatrics has established that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens in America, rising above homicide. Which is up from 2006, where it was listed as the third leading cause.
Research has shown that there are many risk factors for suicide. Things such as, but not limited to; a family history of depression related suicide, a history of sexual abuse, mood and mental disorders, sexual orientation acceptance or transgender identification, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, to name a few. An important additional risk factor that has become rampant over the last several years is bullying.
As we look at the many factors that play a role in the lives of adolescents and the need to feel accepted among their peers, we can see why helping to build their self-esteem and confidence is a vital part of helping them to cope with what is troubling them emotionally.
Bullying is at a record high and adolescents are influenced to “fit” into a social acceptance category based on the medias version of what should be the “norm”, is at an all-time high.
Remember back in the day, when you were a teenager and wanted to feel like you fit in? We had bullies back in the 60’s and 70’s, but if our parents found out we picked on someone who was different, boy were we in trouble! We didn’t have to all be the perfect size, wear the fanciest designer jeans, sport the athlete endorsed sneakers, be attracted to only the opposite sex, for our friends to like us. If we were raised properly, we knew we were not all alike. When we were caught bullying someone, there were repercussions.
Don’t take me wrong, there were bullies among teens back then too, it was just a lot harder to get away with it. We didn’t have cell phones to send messages and pictures to people or post to social media, we had to actually write notes, call on a house phone and hope our parents didn’t hear us, or do it face to face and hope word didn’t spread we were being jerks. I am sure many suicides were contributed to this meanness as well. Suicide was not spoken of by families, because it was looked on as a sign of “mental illness, or “their family has issues” and how dare anyone know that our family were not just like the television sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver.
In current times, television shows are geared towards youth audiences that depict teens in their social settings, being popular and having the latest and newest clothing, electronics, cool friends and being top in the sport of their choice. They depict girls with perfect figures, dating the great looking jocks, and their parents drove fancy cars when they dropped them off at the mall to spent their large allowances. In all reality, that world only exists for the 1% of teens that feel entitled and usually are the ones bullying the most. Leaving the teen that does not have that lifestyle feeling a sense of poor self-worth. They feel others see them as inadequate, depressed and worthless.
There are many groups and organizations reaching out to educate teens on how to recognize bullying, and speaking out when they see someone being bullied, yet it seems as if it is not enough. We need to reach parents too. Research has shown that, most teens who bully, have in one way or another “learned” that bullying is acceptable through mixed messages from their own parental figures. Some teens see their parents being overly aggressive towards others, even mocking those of lesser financial standing or social status, and carry through in their own actions by learning from that bad example. Some have even been bullied themselves and as a coping mechanism to feel better about themselves, will bully others as a mechanism of lashing out.
Suicide among teens is not just a result of bullying. Some teens lack self-esteem, because of size, stature or deformities, and have not learned coping mechanisms or means to accept themselves for who they are. Parents can be a key player in helping their teen learn to accept themselves for the beautiful people they are inside, but not all efforts are successful.
We as adults need to be aware and pay attention to teens in our lives. Look for changes in behavior, changes in friends and if our teens or teens we are around tend to be more withdrawn, we need to do what we can to understand what is going on in their lives. We need to take the time to understand them without being overly invasive, and supportively listen. When necessary, seek intervention.
Here are a few great tell-tale signs I found online that will help you as a parent, relative or youth worker recognize when a teen needs help coping, or intervention, before they get to the point of feeling there is no hope and that suicide is the only answer to their problems. Also listed are tell-tale signs that your teen or a teen you know may be bullying someone else, which could result in that teen committing suicide. It would be sad to know if we turned a blind eye to our teen if we allowed them to bully someone else to the point they took their own life, and we did nothing. Culpability would be ours for doing nothing to prevent it.
The following are some factors that may put your teen at risk for the dangerous behaviors or feeling inadequate and hopeless:
Previous victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse: Victims of abuse often have low self-esteem and self-worth, making them more susceptible to troubled behavior in their teen and adult years.
History of violence or anger: It is not uncommon for a violent child to grow into a violent teen. If your child has a history of aggression or anger, watch them closely to see how they handle themselves in stressful situations as they grow older.
Stressful home life: Divorce, financial problems or violence in the home are all factors that put a teen at risk for rebellious or “troubled” behavior.
Substance abuse: Use of drugs and alcohol heighten the risk of every behavior listed above. Even if your teen is “just experimenting,” it’s best to treat these as serious warning signs and be vigilant in working to curb these activities.
The following are some troubled teen warning signs and risk factors that indicate you may have a troubled youth in need of some extra help or perhaps some may be signs you have a bully in the making:
Extreme moods: Teens are going to be moody—their bodies and hormones are changing and this is natural. But extreme fits of anger, long bouts of sadness, seeming hatred towards family members and a consistently disrespectful attitude are perhaps warning signs that something deeper is going on. Pay attention to your teen’s mood swings to try to determine what some of their “triggers” are. If the extreme moods continue for months in the absence of logical triggers, it may be time to explore the possibility of a mental health disorder or more complex behavioral problem.
Unexplained large sums of money: Is your unemployed or minimum wage-earning teen showing up at home with expensive jewelry, new gadgets or fancy clothes you’ve never seen? Unexplained money, coupled with a withdrawn and defiant teen, can often be the sign of a more serious issue like bullying money out of others. Teens living this lifestyle may also seem to lose money or valuables very quickly, as they trade it for drugs, to cope with their inner pain or are in unsafe situations where they have things stolen.
Unhealthy obsession with new friend group: When your child enters middle school and high school they will inevitably meet new friends. This is good. But is your teen changing their behavior, appearance, or values to fit in with a new group of friends? This could be a sign of unhealthy or dangerous friendships, especially if the group your child is trying to fit in with seems to have questionable values.
Self-Harm: Are there signs that your teen is cutting, burning or in any way mutilating themselves physically? If so, get help now. This is a common precursor of violent or suicidal behavior. This is not a warning sign that should be taken lightly!
Consistent dishonesty: Lying once to go to a party is one thing, but consistently lying about where they have been and who they have been with may be a sign that your teen is headed down a dangerous path. Clearly there is a reason they don’t want you as the parent to know where they’ve been. When you catch them in a lie, try to get to the bottom of what they were trying to hide
No remorse for actions: This is a big one. All teens will make mistakes—some small, some big. But how do they react when they are caught? A teen that shows no remorse or guilt for their mistakes has crossed a dangerous line. If your teen is blatantly defying the rules you have laid out and doesn’t seem to care if they get caught, these are serious warning signs. It is time to seek help.
To change the suicide rate among teens, we as adults need to become more proactive and start paying attention.
References available upon request.
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