Sunday morning I was sitting on a pew in our church. As the service got to the part where we pray for the recently deceased, the lector spoke a name I recognized. My eyes immediately shot over to my daughter, who was on the altar as a server. A wave of pain and helplessness came over me as I watched her try to hold it together, but ultimately she had no choice but to reach up to wipe her teary eyes.
Last week, for the second time in as many months, my fifteen-year-old daughter was shaken by the sudden passing of a classmate and teammate.
As we had before, my wife and I sat down last week with our four children (12, 13, 14 & 15) to again discuss the issue of teen suicide. We talked about what we knew of the student lost. We asked if they had any questions, and as you can imagine, they mostly shrugged their shoulders and said very little.
This is not the first time we have faced this as a family and I fear it won’t be the last, but my hope is to help bring the matter to the surface, with an eye toward eliminating it as an concern all together.
We have looked into the eyes of our teens and implored them to acknowledge the idea that “it is never that bad,” and “you can always come talk to us.” They look back and insist they understand and they would never do such a thing. However, the teenage mind is a funny and dangerously unstable thing.
As parents, we joke and complain about how moody and unpredictable our teens can be. We work hard at knowing where our children are physically at all times, but we tend to focus less on where they are emotionally and socially – mostly because that status changes by the minute.
Two weeks ago, one of the teenagers in our home gave me a perfect illustration of exactly what we are dealing with. This particular child is an A student in all honors classes, is considered competent and polite by everyone he/she encounters, and in every way seems entirely normal. One evening with the rest of the family nearby in the next room, this teen took a drinking glass from the cupboard, and placed it into the water dispenser in the refrigerator door. At this point a clear-thinking human would stand next to the glass for the next 20-30 seconds as the glass filled, and then remove it.
The teen in this situation however walked away from the glass. Five minutes later I walked into the kitchen and into a half-inch of water covering the wood kitchen floor.
Did the teen not understand how the water dispenser worked? Hardly. This child of mine simply did what teenagers do sometimes… they lose their grip on reality for a few minutes.
In “discussing” the situation with this teen, he/she had no explanation whatsoever for what had transpired, none. There was however a clear knowledge of what had happened and exactly how it had happened. The teen accepted complete responsibility for the situation, but at the same time could not explain how he/she had come to the decision that it was a good idea to walk away from the glass.
The situation I just described had no long-term impact. We cleaned up the mess and moved on. The next day one of the floorboards was a little warped, but after a few days more it returned to its original position.
How many times when you were a teenager did something occur where you thought your life was over? Maybe you got a bad grade, or you were rejected by the object of your teenage desire. In retrospect it seems silly, but to the teenage mind it is as serious as their drama-laden wails suggest.
The danger comes when one of these “tragedies” collides with a moment of temporary teenage insanity.
Instead of just wanting a glass of water, they believe there is no point in going on. Instead of simply walking away from the glass, they do something far more destructive and permanent.
I don’t believe I have all the answers, but the events of recent weeks have made me aware that the same teen who looks me in the eye and claims to understand that it is “never that bad,” is the very same one who flooded my kitchen.
Several years ago I lost a friend to suicide. Although he died in his forties, he was someone I had known since eighth grade. After his passing I learned that the demons with which he struggled had been with him since before we met. On the surface this guy had everything: a loving family, a successful career, and all the things the come with both. Every time I hear about a teenager reaching the end of what they feel they can tolerate on this earth, I think about this friend and how the entire time we were buddies in high school he was probably looking for a way out.
Rarely do these situations make sense to anyone. The perfect storm of despair and pseudostupidity can turn any “great kid” into the next obituary – this needs to stop.
There is no simple solution here, but we can all take a step closer to stopping it by openly and honestly admitting that nobody is immune. Sure, you can have logical conversations with your teen and walk away feeling safe knowing you’ve said what needed to be said, but that may not be enough.
In the life of a teenager, flowers should be for proms, not for funerals. The more we talk about it and accept this is a danger we all face, the closer we will get to keeping our local florists busy with nothing but corsages and boutonnieres.
That big word I just used, pseudostupidity is in fact a real thing. ‘Pseudostupidity’ is the adolescent’s tendency to overlook the obvious and inability to make appropriate choices. It results from the lack of experience with newly attained abilities to perceive many possibilities simultaneously.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.