Children are often the first to succumb to toxic cultural conditions. Look around, it’s not hard to see that for some, the song is over before it’s barely begun.
In this connection, much has been made of adolescent suicide, as should be. Confirmed reporting of data on causes of death lags well behind real time. We know that, in 2014:
425 10-14-year-olds died by suicide
1,837 15-19-year-olds died by suicide
3,253 20-24-year-olds died by suicide
Including 20-24-year-olds is an artifact of the first wave of reporting in which, other than 10-14-year-olds, the numbers are often released in 10-year groupings—15-24-year-olds, 25-34-year-olds, and so on. A lot of us are accustomed to thinking of teen suicide differently than young adult suicide, much as we’re accustomed to think differently about 24-year-olds and 15-year-olds giving birth. But maybe it’s useful to consider the lives of people in the five years after their teens. Most of us don't think typical 24-year-olds have much in common with typical 15-year-olds, but many 24-year-olds are still within reach of help from people they knew and trusted when they were 15 (as well as people they might have trusted at 15, had they known them).
In any event, in 2014, the rate of suicides spiked from about nine per 100,000 15-19-year-olds to about 14 per 100,000 20-24-year-olds. That spike is typical of recent years. For people endeavoring to raise adults, this is sad news.
The vulnerability of American children and adolescents is measured in more ways than suicide. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducts longterm Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance that does more or less what it sounds like: The YRBS studies risky behavior in America’s student population. These indicators suggest that, in general, things are not as good as we wish, and not bad as we fear.
Here’s a sampling from the High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 2015 Results:
If you’ve been told things are getting worse all the time, the data show that is not true. Much of the conduct measured in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance is trending less risky compared to the peak between 1991 and 2015. Any-is-too-many, yes…but let’s give credit where credit is due. In many ways, the current crop of high schoolers are doing better than, or about as well as, the generation before them at the same age.
Having said that, we return to the any-is-too-many theme. Kids in trouble are in as much trouble as kids in trouble ever were. Their families suffer the same sort of distress all distressed families always suffer.
When teenagers take risks in reaction to real life stress—self-medicating against pain, for instance, or non-suicidal self harm to deflect pain—they are trying to do what people have always tried to do. They are trying to cope.