Just a generation ago, children and teens were consumed with thoughts of their first kiss, acquiring their driver’s license, prom dates and choosing between joining the armed forces or attending college.
But with visions of and experiences with drive-by murders or Columbine and other mass shootings of school-age children having escalated to the point that they’ve become the rule rather than the exception, the years of innocence that youth should be allowed to enjoy are both limited and fraught with terror.
Add the pressures of social media, cellphones and inadequate amounts of sleep to the mix and what we’re seeing are suicide rates among youth that are only second among the leading causes of death for those 10 to 24 years old — with accidents like car crashes topping the list.
The death of a child is without question most parents’ worst nightmare — one even more difficult to face when it’s self-inflicted. But no one seems to be asking why and what we can do to prevent it, despite recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that after a period of stability, suicide rates between 2007 and 2017 rose by an astonishing 56 percent. Along with suicides, since 2011, America has witnessed a nearly 400 percent increase in suicide attempts by self-poisoning among young people.
This is an issue that we can no longer ignore.
Medical experts propose that more time and money must immediately be spent “on identifying kids who are most vulnerable, helping them respond effectively to stress and teaching them what they can do in a crisis, adding that the process needs to begin early, in the elementary grades.”
But we suggest something that may be even easier to accomplish and will not cost one cent — our willingness to and insistence upon spending more quality time with our youth. Of course, that means taking away smartphones and access to social media or other forms of online communication — taking away the “babysitter” and the “pacifier” upon which adults have also grown far too dependent.
Child psychologists estimate that 85 percent of teens look at social media, spend very little face-to-face time with friends and instead of going on a date on a Saturday night, are routinely perched on their beds or couches glued to their Instagram accounts. All the while, they’re ingesting untold amounts of negativity, competition and jockeying for status and unfiltered access to sites that tell them how to harm themselves or others.
Technology itself is not the problem — it’s how we use it, or perhaps and more correctly, how we misuse it. So, set time limits for youth children’s access that are non-negotiable. Start talking with your children, having dinner together and encouraging them to use their little-used people skills with adults and their peers.
Kids may not want to disconnect from their smartphones but adults know better, don’t we?