After years of decline, the suicide rate for kids ages 10 to 14 rose 76% between 2007 and 2017, according to the CDC. That’s a sobering increase: it’s risen threefold. Does it have anything to do with the nature of the world today?
Thinking back to my childhood in the 1950s and early 60s it’s obvious that overall, it was a more innocent time. Although we learned duck and cover to “protect” us should a nuclear bomb hit us (right….) I felt no particular fear of it actually happening and no anxiety over the act of ducking and covering. It was just something we did. I attached nothing at all to it.
Probably because it had never happened. I had no image of what it would be like for a nuclear bomb to go off because when one did, I hadn’t been born yet. We didn’t see images of it all over.
Overall, the era I grew up in was a more innocent time for white people like me. A guileless time. It never occurred to us that someone could walk into our school with a gun and blow us all away. Or that a bomb could go off at a concert or event.
Probably because it had never happened. So how could we imagine it?
But kids today know that those things HAVE happened in their world. They know because it’s all over the news, all over social media and schools are having to conduct active shooter drills as a result. This isn’t a “just in case” thing, it’s actually happened and kids have seen it in living color.
So is it no wonder that young people today are consumed with anxiety?
Social media, too, have changed the environment kids live in. Those carefully curated posts, retouched selfies and the appearance of a life that most kids can only dream of–those images stick like glue. It’s only natural that children would compare themselves to these curated images …and find themselves coming up short.
That, too, is anxiety-producing. And those with anxiety disorders are more likely to have suicidal thoughts …. and to attempt it.
This is the world kids live in today and they are ill-equipped to handle its pervasive fear and anxiety. That’s why it’s incredibly important to monitor children for signs of anxiety and to let them know they are not alone. And to get help.
I encourage parents to do some reading about the signs of suicidal thoughts in kids (like this article, for example) and if they have any concerns at all, to discuss with their pediatrician or another knowledgeable professional.
But what’s most important is that kids know that they have a caring support system they can turn to. And that help is available.
Sadly, today, more than ever, it is critically important to be alert to what’s going on with kids–the stuff they aren’t talking about.
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