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Teenage Angst and Suicide: Don’t Blame Parents

Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

There have been nine teenage suicides from Gunn high school in Palo Alto, California since 2009. Teenage suicide happens nationwide. Each year two million adolescents attempt suicide and two thousand are successful in ending their lives.

We all have been searching for answers to why these kids killed themselves, and we are seeking ways to prevent teen suicides. Parents have been blamed for being too demanding of their kids. Blame is not helpful for finding solutions nor is it appropriate.

Let’s take a look at the economic issues young people and their parents are faced with and then discuss some ways to ease all the angst that comes with growing up in present day America.

The anxiety about not having enough financial resources is triggered by:

  1. Many college graduates are working minimum wage jobs. In 2013, 284,000 college grads were making minimum wage. Also in 2013, 17.8 percent of college graduates are working for hourly wages.
  2. College costs are off the hook and competition to get in to top schools is ridiculously high.
  3. Students are stuck with high student loans to pay back. To date, there are approximately 1.1 million people in the US who are saddled with student loans that have topped six figures.
  4. Forty-five percent of students who attend college end up moving back in with their parents after they graduate.
  5. Those who do go to college earn $47,000.00 which barely covers housing and other essentials.

Parents are well aware of all these facts and they panic. Parents teach their kids strategies for not accruing debt, not returning home after graduating and making money to afford living in the USA. Those strategies are: get the highest grades possible, have many extracurricular activities, have perfect SAT scores, be an all-star athlete, play several musical instruments and be the editor of the school newspaper. Then they may not only be accepted into these top tier schools, but perhaps they will obtain academic scholarships as well.

There are some many downsides to this lifestyle which include lack of time to develop friendships, no time to learn problem solving skills and exhaustion from an endless, grinding daily schedule.

However, parents believe the tradeoff for being overly scheduled is worth the end result of survival.

Parents have been scapegoated as being helicopter, micromanagers of their children. The lack of economic opportunities kicks in the parent’s sense of survival. They are not motivated to push their kids by keeping up with the Jones’s or from some distorted sense of greed. Parents are afraid their kids will not have enough money simply to pay the rent. In many cities housing is not affordable. Monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco is reaching $3,500.00. If you do the math, rent alone will cost $42,000.00 per year.

It is easy to blame parents for putting too much pressure on their children. I don’t blame them for doing what they think will help their kids not only succeed, but merely survive on their own. The lack of good paying jobs plus the high cost of housing creates anxiety and despondency. Therefore going to the best college provides young people the best possibility of living independently.

If there is blame to be found, you can look at our government and the policies it doesn’t enact. Many good paying jobs have been moved overseas. There is an inadequate supply of affordable housing. The student loan burden placed on young people is a disgrace. Wages have not risen with inflation over the years.

Perhaps parents should transfer the pressure on their children to their elected officials.

Signs that your child may be depressed and become suicidal:

  • Lack of interest in activities that previously brought pleasure
  • Over or under eating
  • Sleeping all the time or not much at all
  • Withdrawing and not talking much
  • Tearful much of the time
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Reckless behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Lack of self-worth

Some teens have learned the art of masking and hiding their feelings. They may come across as care free and happy, but may really be feeling quite the opposite. This is why it is important that you check in with them on a regular basis and have conversations about their feelings. Many of us have suicidal thoughts, but if you observe your child having any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with a therapist who works with teens and their families. If your child tells you he has plans to kill himself, take him to the nearest hospital emergency room for an assessment.

You as a parent can also choose to have conversations with your child about her pressure packed life. Perhaps she may choose to take fewer academically challenging classes and not participate in as many extra-curricular activities. You may be OK with that and let her proceed at her own pace all the while letting her know that you will support her decision.

Keep Reading By Author Bob Livingstone, LCSW
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