Our friend died on his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestige of his courage and only God knows how this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul.
- Remarks at funeralof Utah teen suicide victim
We deal with a lot of them in the newspaper business. The poverty rate. School testing. Unemployment. Sports data.
I got a call from two mothers of "statistics" last week. Each had a son who committed suicide last year.
They and other parents (their letter to the editor is on the opposite page) are concerned that a story we printed several weeks ago about teen suicide will cause parents to let down their guard. Based on statistics, we reported that of suicide victims ages 13 to 21, "65 percent have contact with the juvenile justice system, and multiple contacts are common."
We also reported that "almost half of the teens who commit suicide have been suspended or expelled from school."
The son of the first mother who called graduated with honors. Shortly after graduation he ended his life.
Trying to answer "why" is what led his mother and father and the parents of five other sons who committed suicide to form a support group. Who else can possibly understand that kind of pain unless they also are going through it?
As the letter to the editor notes, five of the six teens were Eagle Scouts. They had after-school jobs and were active in church and/or sports activities and generally did well in school.
Depression and drugs and/or alcohol use frequently are precursors to suicide and were factors in the deaths referred to in the letter.
"One message I'd like to get out to kids is that even drinking and (smoking) marijuana isn't safe," one mother who called said.
Another message regards the availability of firearms. That's the way all but one of the teens in this particular group ended their lives.
"If a gun's not available they'll give it a second thought or maybe the other method won't work," the mother continued. Added the other, "We only thought guns were a danger to young children."
It takes courage to do what these parents are doing - going public via a letter to the editor. Their hope is that it will serve as a warning and thereby prevent other tragedies.
The pressures on teens today are greater than they have ever been, and society in general is approaching warp speed.
Sure, every generation has similar challenges, but consider what the kids of today face compared to those of us who were going to high school in the late '50s and early '60s:
Drugs - They weren't even a topic of conversation at my high school in Southern California, and I don't recall any being available on campus. The big problem was alcohol. Today, we're told that even in junior high school those who seek drugs can easily find them.
Movies - Most films in the '50s and early '60s were pretty tame. There were no R-rated films or even PG-13 ones. In fact there weren't any ratings. Contrast that with today. Many of the popular teen movies are filled with vulgarities, gratuitous sex, nudity and violence. Too often the message is, if you've got a problem, use violence to take care of it.
Music - Most of it was pretty mild 35 years ago. Parents only had to contend with Elvis, the Beach Boys, the Beatles and their clones as opposed to the heavy metal groups of today. There have been charges that some of the heavy metal lyrics promote suicide.
"We wonder what part music played in this (the suicides)," one mother stated.
The other was equally disturbed by it. A song her son used to frequently play included these lyrics: "Kill yourself, it will be better."
"I have such a bone of contention with Hollywood and music," she added.
The Internet - In the 1960s, of course, it wasn't here - you couldn't call it up from a typewriter. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh concludes that the more people use the Internet the more depressed and lonely they become. Some people are virtually addicted to it, and chat rooms in particular may be fraught with peril.
One thing that hasn't changed is the importance of communicating with children. The first mother who called, echoing the feelings of the other, issued the following plea to parents:
"It's important to talk to your children about suicide and to tell them, `There's no way we'd rather have you take your life than to be here.' "