Suicide, is a sad topic no one wants to talk about. But I have to write about it because it's affecting our teens in Colorado Springs. You see, teen suicide is on the rise here. As of mid-October there have been 13 teen suicides in ...El Paso County. In 2015 there were 14 teen suicides here. Our very own Academy School District 20 recently launched a "powerful partnerships and suicide prevention campaign" in order to bring public awareness to this sensitive issue. Rampart High School even performed a play about it. But the big question is WHY? What is going on here? What is happening to our teens?
I've read about different theories and speculations. Some say our kids are depressed because we are a military town full of deployed parents who have to leave their families a lot. They say that's troubling our kids. I'm not convinced the problem stems from this. I know deployment is stressful, but military families have faced deployment for decades, and yet never was there a time when the teen suicide rate was this high.
Others theorize that suicide is contagious. According to a recent article in Newsweek Magazine, "Decades of research prove that a startling range of emotions and behaviors can be contagious—from moodiness to yawning. Young people are especially susceptible; they obsess over fads and fashion trends and copy illicit behaviors from peers, such as smoking, drinking or speeding. Or suicide." According to this theory, the kids are copying one another. I'm not convinced this is the reason. Copying has been around forever. Why would it suddenly increase now?
I am the mother of a teenager. My daughter attends high school here in the Springs. I've watched and listened to her. Here's what I think:
1. These kids are under more pressure than ever before. They're under pressure to perform well, almost perfectly. Example: school teachers are constantly talking about grades. Every time these kids take a quiz or turn in an assignment, they are immediately given an update as to their current grade, how many points are being added or subtracted because of that quiz or assignment. They can't do a project without worrying about how it will impact the grade. They walk around paranoid, for fear of making the "wrong" move or not being "good enough." They are reminded daily of each grade in each class. When I was in school, we got report cards which showed our quarterly grades. We weren't reminded on a daily basis of how we were measuring up. Shame on our system for doing this to them. A fellow mom, whose daughter is in a few classes with my own, said "I've never seen Naomi (name changed) so stressed out. She can't relax under all this pressure to perform."
2. Social media is not helping these kids to feel good about themselves. Sites like Instagram or Facebook show classmates and friends in happy, unrealistic photos of a perfect life. They show smiles and laughter and post about the good time everyone is having. They give an unrealistic view of how people should look and how life should be. These kids feel inferior when they read all that. They compare themselves to the images and feel they can't measure up.
3. Today's parents are putting so much pressure on their kids to perform, get good grades, excel at a sport, volunteer. It's too much. In speaking with one parent at last night's parent/teacher conference, she was happy to inform me of her daughter's great grades, playing a variety of sports, and volunteering with out local junior police program. Her other daughter, a high school Junior, is learning how to fly airplanes. I was exhausted just hearing about it. Parents are pushing their kids to excel at levels which are almost impossible.
As a Realtor, I've even had buyers call who are moving here from out of state and have already determined which school district they want for their kids, purely based on district ranking. Not that there's anything wrong wanting the best for your kids. I certainly do. But have we gotten too focused on rank and achievement? Ironically, one of the best ranking schools in our area, which is located in one of the best ranking districts in our area happens to have the HIGHEST suicide rate of all the schools in El Paso County. It's no coincidence. With such an emphasis on "turning out the best" perhaps we have ignored the pressure these kids feel to be the best, to outperform, to set higher standards than ever before.
I'm no expert on how to raise a kid or how to keep them from doing the unthinkable. And my heart goes out to all those parents and families who are facing such. But I have to believe the pressure these kids are under is so heavy that the burden is often too much to bear. Colorado Springs is a great city with an awesome public school system. But as parents we are ultimately responsible for ensuring our kids are okay. We have to pay attention to what they say and how they behave. And we have to let them know it's okay to be scared or imperfect. After all, aren't we all?