Suicide-Prevention-Quotes-7I learned last week that one of my former students killed herself. She was 14. I’m shaken and very sad.

Some people I share with are incredulous, thinking what could be so bad at 14? What could drive a young person to make such a finite decision? I can understand, because I was about that age when I considered killing myself. I’m grateful that I was too scared to follow through. I’ve learned it gets so much better and maybe even easier, as we go through life. We learn tools to help us deal with what life throws at us, but I couldn’t see that from where I was then. I was in so much pain. I felt unloved, unwanted and as if I was a burden, even to my own family. I understand how someone could consider taking their own life.

But today’s kids seem to have it so much worse. With the pervasiveness of the Internet, came along cyberbullying.

Check out these alarming statistics from bullyingstatistics.org:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.

  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University

  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying

  • 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above

  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying

Even martial arts, which claim to make your child bully proof, aren’t bully proof. My student had earned her junior black belt and this video, We Are Human, was created in memory of another martial arts student who killed themselves after merciless bullying. I think the video gives us some insight into what’s happening with young people online.

I’m not saying that martial arts training doesn’t help students, or even transform the issue completely for some of them, but not all, and each one that it misses breaks my heart.

In addition to bullying, which has taken an especially insidious turn in the age of smartphones and video cameras, young people are facing more mature ideas at less mature ages.

I was at a family celebration recently where a couple of teenage boys were dressing in drag. Everyone, classmates and their parents, was cool with it. I thought it was a bit much even, when I overheard one of the parents asking the boy if he was Trans. (Can’t a boy just play dress up too?) Mostly, I was glad that these boys had a safe place to express themselves. I know there are many young people who don’t.

Kids today are dealing with much more complicated social issues at a younger age, and they’re doing it in front of the Internet. That’s an intimidating prospect even as an adult.

The Internet has made us more vulnerable and less connected. How many times have you been in a room where everyone was on their mobile device? The video I mentioned earlier illustrates how easy it is to disassociate ourselves when interacting online. Studies have shown it is much easier for people to say or write something hurtful when they can’t see or hear the impact on the intended recipient.

We have to acknowledge that the world we live in is evolving at a very rapid pace. People are changing. (Think major generational shifts like Rock-n-Roll and Woodstock.) We need to find a way to be more tolerant and supportive of people who are coming of age in this new era, (without abandoning the teaching of respect and responsibility).

For now, check in with your young people. Have real, straight, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with your teens. It could save their life.