Dan Seaborn: Teen suicide rate means kids need our attention

Dan Seaborn

In 2007, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death among people of all ages. Today, it’s the third-leading cause of death among teens.

Proof of this can be found in a story last month about two girls from a Southwest Minnesota middle school who made a suicide pact and ended up successfully killing themselves while at a sleepover at one of the girl’s homes.

I use the word “successfully” because for every teen that dies from suicide, another approximately 25 have attempted it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Compare that with nearly 11 attempts made by adults for every suicide death.

In my mind, all these numbers add up to a growing problem in America: our kids are literally dying for attention.

Speaking recently on a morning talk show, the girls’ mothers said they had no indication their daughters were that desperate. Both mothers conveyed their daughters were suffering from depression, and one of the girls was on medication, but they said neither girl showed signs of wanting to end her life.

The girls also expressed experiencing some form of bullying in school. Family members confirmed it was most likely in the form of social networking, even though one of the victims was expelled from school for her involvement in a fight. Some signs revealed these girls were not extremely happy, but nothing definitive that could point to suicide, leaving many unanswered questions.

I read some comments online from people regarding this particular story and was surprised to learn a few people faulted the parents for this tragedy. Some people wrote that bullying is a regular part of life and that parents should mentally prepare their children to handle it. That’s tough. I wonder if a bully wrote it.

I don’t think there’s an easy solution to prevent teenage suicide, and I’m not an expert, but there are risk factors I found posted on a mental health government website: depression and other mental disorders, substance-abuse, a family history of mental disorder or substance abuse, prior suicide attempt, family history of suicide, family violence, physical or sexual abuse and exposure to suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers or media figures.

Obviously, if one of those factors exists in your family, it’s important you openly discuss it with your children. Don’t shy away from it because it might be difficult. You also shouldn’t panic because these factors don’t mean your teen will commit suicide. It all boils down to awareness.

I’ve always encouraged parents to be aware of everything their kids are involved in. Be aware of who their friends are, where they go and what they watch on TV. Eat meals together, and ask them questions. Even if they act like they don’t want to answer, I believe they are delighted you are taking an interest in them. Just like it’s a parent’s job to embarrass their children, it’s your child’s job to act annoyed.

Another important rule I try to follow is to be my child’s parent, not their best friend. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy each other’s company, but first and foremost, my role is to parent.

Make a pact with yourself today that you will be involved with your children by asking the tough questions and being aware of their behavior at all times. The statistics are telling us they want our attention.

Dan Seaborn is a non-denominational Christian Evangelist and a published author of such books as "The Necessary Nine: How to Stay Happily Married for Life!" He is the founder of Winning at Home Inc., a ministry that focuses its attention on the relationships between a husband and wife and between parents and their children. He is a staple speaker for Promise Keepers, a Christian Evangelical ministry dedicated to uniting men to become positive influences in the world.