By Dr. Tim Martin
There is a troubling trend competing for the #1 spot. There are no positive rewards reaped from getting to this spot. No trophy is given out for achieving victory. No shout from the stands, “We’re number #1, we’re number 1.” The spot I am referring to is one of the leading causes of death among teenagers in this country- suicide.
◦Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2013 CDC WISQARS)
◦Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2013 CDC WISQARS)
According to the Centers for Disease Control from 2015, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 and ages 12-18. A teenage car accident holds the number #1 spot at this time. Teen suicide has its sight set on that #1 spot, striving for it each year, growing in number, especially among girls.
Many of these students suffer in silence. So many parents, coaches, school counselors, teachers, pastors, student pastors, and even the teenager’s own friends do not see it coming or want to even believe that someone they care about and are connected to would take their own life. Teenage suicide is not prejudice. Socio-economics nor a teenager’s GPA are factors. The athletic star, cute cheerleader, S.G.A. president or drum major are not exempt. Teen suicide takes no prisoners.
This is not a commercial or manipulative marketing scheme to get more clients for people like myself who are personal and professional life or leadership coaches. I have been a senior pastor, youth pastor, college athletic chaplain, camp and conference speaker to teens, also; a coach in youth leagues, business owner, life and leadership coach, professor and parent of three teenagers over the last 28 years. I can only recall maybe one time when a teenager came to me DIRECTLY and said, “I am thinking about taking my life, can you help me?” Most of the information came through second and/or third parties. If you are a parent, student minister, coach or teacher I can only pray your experience has been different.
In the postmodern teen culture of today, here is what I have found to be true most of the time. What is said in the following is not an indictment or suggestion of failure at the hands of any person’s role in a postmodern teen’s life. It is the basis of an understanding for their reaction to certain leadership roles in or with crisis and safe and secure suggestion for who can help them.
Parents (Mom or Dad) or Grandparents (GP’s): Chances are, your teenager is not coming to you about what they are contemplating, out of fear of you freaking out and throwing them into some psyche ward. Don’t take it personal. You are inside their inner core circle. They will lie, deny and hide things to keep that circle intact, free from the embarrassing problems that exposure threatens. A relationship rupture of any kind will threaten any intimacy they need and depend on.
Student Pastor, Minister or Influential Community Leader: Most likely, they’re not coming to you either. Sorry about your ego, I know, I have been there. It’s not because you’re not spiritual, safe or not cool. You’re just too close to their parents in their eyes. They know at some point you will fall victim to the pressure and weight of responsibility for what they have disclosed to you, forced by conscious and law, having to say something to their parents out of fear if something happened and you did not tell them. They also fear being pulled out of the wolf pack for one-on-one sessions they feel would cause their friends to wonder what is wrong with them. But, here is an ego booster for you: You can be inside their influence circle. Guard it, because only trusted people and a handful of friends are allowed there.
School Teacher, Administrator and Coach: Don’t feel you have failed because they did not come to you. You operate inside their involvement circle. School is the epicenter of teenage culture. A place where they are expected to perform socially, academically and athletically. Staying after school or practice, coming before school or getting taken out of class during school, to talk to you about their thoughts, feelings and intentions will bring on too many questions from their peers inside and outside their involvement circle, as to what your conversations are all about. They fear the isolation and the possible humiliation that may come as a result of coming to you. In their mind, being exposed or outed would mean devastation to how others would see them. The performance factor forces silence. Most teens would rather suffer silently than say something openly to a classmate, teammate, teacher or coach, at the risk of causing or being a disappointment.
Suggested Solution: In a situation like contemplating suicide, or whatever issue they may be struggling with deep inside, they need a safe, secure and non-threatening connection with somebody that can be inside-out. Someone that can be invited inside their influence circle for a period, safe to connect with, but is outside their normal involvement circle (friends, teachers, coaches, student ministers, etc.) or tribe. Troubled teens (emotionally, relational or spiritually) need someone they can build a connection bridge with outside their inner circles, having the freedom to cross back and forth, inside and outside their circles, with the safety and security of privacy. That bridge separates the person they can expose their personal conflict to, from the people they fear becoming engaged in it. The fear of labels and social consequences, resulting from thoughts and contemplated plans they may not even act on, becomes too big of a risk to take. Teens need a person in their lives they trust outside looking in, but is also a person they can trust with what is inside of them that needs to come out.
GET YOUR A TEEN COACH: This is especially true when they appear to be troubled, struggling or in crisis. Teenagers today have coaches for sports, hobbies, creative and theater arts, academics and the list goes on. Who is their LIFE coach? The coach that helps them with the complicated, chaotic and craziness of teenage life in this culture. Society has called the teenage stage of development “adolescence”. I call it “animalescence.” We are losing teenagers in this jungle every day. In their culture it’s not about security or success, it’s about survival.
Again, I am not suggesting that certain people in certain roles can’t help teens with issues that lead to suicide or ineffective and unhealthy choices. Statistics show, without certain people involved in teenagers lives their struggles would be a lot worse. The solution is not to subtract important people from teenager’s inner circles, but being intentional about adding strategic partners that can help teens outside those circles. Whatever valuable part you have in a teen’s life, desire results more than the use of a personal or professional role. Relationships are always more important than personal achievements.
To reach Dr. Martin email email@example.com.
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