- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: Suicidal “Solution

Promising young athletes. Good-hearted teens. Victims of suicide.

What happened? What will keep other children from following suit?

In Northern Virginia, parents and school administrators are asking those questions in the wake of a steady stream of teen suicides this spring. Plus, nearly 15 percent of Fairfax County teens say they have considered suicide, according to the 2009 Fairfax County Youth Survey. While the numbers are stunning, they don’t capture the heartache of losing even one child.

Suicide has occupied the national stage of late with the tragic, highly publicized suicides of several homosexual teens. Those who support homosexual activity in teens have largely driven the discussion about teen suicide, proposing solutions that center mostly on laws and practices to help “LGBT” students feel affirmed in their behavioral choices.

These programs fail miserably by not addressing the reality that it often is those behavioral choices and/or past wrongs against the child that drive him or her into making those choices, causing the depression in the first place.

There also is very little organized help for the average teen struggling with depression, despair and loneliness. Suicide seduces behind closed doors, insidiously whispering “escape” in the ear of a vulnerable child.

What makes a child vulnerable?

Some parents blame the outsize pressures teens face these days - hypercompetitiveness in sports, academics, popularity and style. Inevitably, teens fall short. Facebook and other social media outlets magnify personal humiliations - sometimes beyond what seems bearable.

Other parents suggest that the severe “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies in high schools for offenses involving drugs, weapons or physical force are a contributing factor: A student nailed by those policies can feel as if his or her life is all but over. One Fairfax County parent, whose 15-year-old son committed suicide in the wake of disciplinary proceedings for bringing a banned but not illegal substance to school, thought his son’s “spirit was crushed” by the disciplinary process.

At the end of the day, all of these outside factors influence a troubled child’s heart or create turmoil in the heart of an innocent child, sometimes to deadly effect.

But there’s an additional factor at work here: the teen culture, designed and served up by adults whose primary focus is monetary. This generation of teens is the most heavily marketed to in history, and the teens take in the empty messages at every turn. Messages that teach self-absorption, instant gratification and a fascination with risk-taking and violence.

Sooner or later, teens who buy the lies run smack into real-life limits and adult consequences. Those who are least resilient become casualties. Desperate to avoid consequences or numbed by depression or pain, some tragically choose suicide as their “way out.”

How to Save Your Family: Build Resilience Based on Hope

Every child needs loving, proactive adults in his or her life. And the hurting child needs help now. Too many children are battling demons alone, doors shut, headphones on, as raging lyrics deepen that sense of isolation. From inside that world, it seems no one can help. Community programs and counselors emphasize that parents and peers who notice a teen’s growing depression must reach across the silence and provide real help. Counseling, appropriate medication, support and monitoring may prove lifesaving.

At the same time, teach your children to be resilient. Each difficulty develops inner strength for what is to come. St. Paul’s confidence in God grew as he endured shipwrecks, exile, humiliation and suffering. So too, your children can say, “I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me.”

I can’t presume to know why particular teens succumb to the evil “solution” of suicide. But I do know this: Your children need to hear that you love them. Over and over. They need to see that love in action, to understand that no matter how bad the mistake, you will be there to help them put things right. They need to feel your love daily as you embrace them with strong, tender arms.

Be explicit with your children: Suicide is evil. No matter what the dark lyrics say. Their lives matter - they have value and were created by God for a purpose. Let them know suicide is an act of utter selfishness that instantly snuffs out the good they can do for others and, instead, inflicts lasting, terrible pain on those who remain.

Finally, every parent - even parents of healthy, optimistic children - must learn how to combat the constant stream of negative media messages and replace them with the truth that God loves each of us and always offers hope through a new tomorrow. Life-affirming, loving and positive messages of truth benefit everyone who hears them. Be the messenger of God’s love to your child - and start today.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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