When a 12-year-old jumps to her death from a tower at an abandoned concrete plant in Florida, we all grieve for the tragic loss and can only imagine the overwhelming pain of her parents. When we learn that this seventh-grader endured face-to-face and online bullying by as many as 15 girls, anger and despair at the level of cruelty children are capable of sweep over us. Our need to know intensifies - why do youth take their lives and why are kids so cruel to each other?
Suicide is a complex phenomenon with multiple risk factors, some chronic and non-modifiable, some predisposing and potentially modifiable, and some acute. We also know that there are precipitating or triggering stimuli that heighten a period of risk if a person is vulnerable to suicide.
While it is premature to make an association between being bullied and suicide completions or attempts, research supports that there are increased odds for those who are bullied and those who bully to have suicide ideation and depression. Aggressive youth and bullied youth are both in clear need of our attention and help.
What can be done to prevent youth suicide when the causes are so complex? First, arm yourself with facts from reliable sources like the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the American Association of Suicidology. Learn the warning signs of suicide and develop skills to identify and respond to youth who may be feeling suicidal.
What can be done to prevent cyberbullying? Holding bullies accountable for their behavior is an important piece, like the aggravated stalking charges levied against two girls in the Florida case. Remembering that youth who bully need help to address their troubles and become less aggressive is also important.
For many parents struggling to keep up with the technological tools our children use with such frequency and facility — smart phones, texting, twitter, Facebook - puts us at a disadvantage and limits our ability to understand the impact of improper use of these tools on our children’s lives.