It’s a heart-shattering tragedy when a child dies.
How do you bear such tragedy? …such loss? The waste of a beautiful life…it defies our logic to find reason in it, or to try to make sense of it. But what about when that young child kills herself? Why are young girls turning to suicide?
It’s impossible to grasp. You’re left with the most engulfing sense of powerlessness. And loss…
And it’s heartbreaking to say this horrific tragedy hasn’t happened just once. The numbers are growing. And all too fast.
It’s always been more common for boys to commit suicide than girls, but the number of girls who end their lives is rapidly rising to close the gap. But let’s be real…any child’s suicide is devastating. And any suicide is, too. We’re talking about suicide in little girls, teen girls, and young women.
You wonder why.
Why Are Young Girls Turning to Suicide?
The specific reasons haven’t been studied yet, but Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, stresses that multiple factors play a role in suicide. Still, she suggests that a significant contributor may be social media.
And more specifically, cyberbullying on social media.
So even though we know that friendships are a high priority to young teens, and the way children and teens socialize is largely centered in social media, it’s also a source of isolation, cruelty, and bullying.
At the age of 10 or 11, many children just aren’t prepared to withstand the verbal and emotional assaults they experience there.
Now, let’s take it a step further.
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, how can these painful social media experiences be prevented for young girls? Let’s think about that.
Maybe there’s wisdom in postponing children’s online presence..?
A study presented at the American Pediatric Association in 2017 focused on cell phone ownership and cyberbullying in 8-11 year olds. Researchers collected data from surveys with 4584 children of this age group between 2014 and 2016.
They found that 9.5 % of these children who own cell phones had been cyber-bullied.
Nearly 50% of the children surveyed reported owning a cell phone. Throughout this age group, there were more children who owned cell phones who also participated in cyber bullying than those who didn’t own a cell phone.
So, again, while cyberbullying is not the only factor influencing the rising incidence of suicide among young girls, it’s an important factor…and one parents can do something about.
Extensive lessons on the responsibility and etiquette of owning a phone might be the obvious first step. Teaching morality and ethics to your child around the use of the phone should be an imperative about treating others with dignity and respect — whether face-to-face or online.
Two world leaders of technology held a healthy respect for the power of online presence, as well as its dangers. The late Steve Jobs limited his own kids’ use of screen technology, and would not allow them to use an iPad when it came out.
Bill Gates and his wife did not allow their children to have cell phones until they reached the age of 14.
Michael Cheng, a Canadian child and family psychiatrist, says that smart phone use at a very young age is damaging to developing brains. Damaging. The constant stimulation from the screen draws dopamine hits easily. This short-cuts the reward center and sets the stage for addiction to those rewards.
How much easier is it to stay online, play games, text back and forth for those rewarding bumps of dopamine, than to go outside, play ball, go fishing, ride bikes … to get the same amount of reward. Why work for that reward if you can get it without leaving your chair?
Dr. Cheng also points out that children learn social skills face-to-face in real life settings. They learn how to read expressions and develop empathy, how to respect friendships and respect themselves.
If their social interaction takes place digitally, they miss learning the nuances of human interaction, while learning to rely too heavily on the acceptance of others online.
They need fresh air and sunshine, imagination and play, camaraderie and boundaries so that their brains develop well.
So, with that said, let’s consider children who end their lives. Children who are bullied at school and online.
Why ARE Young Girls Turning to Suicide…? And What Can Be Done?
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people between the ages of 10 and 34. Suicides have replaced homicides as the second leading cause of death in teenagers. While more boys than girls end their lives, more girls describe thinking about suicide, considering it, and attempt it.
You may be familiar with the story of 9-year-old McKensie Adams who hung herself after enduring a year of bullying by other students… After reporting this abuse to parents, teachers, and a vice principal, she found a tragic solution. At 9.
Or maybe you heard about 10-year-old Ashawnty Davis, who defended herself in a physical brawl on school grounds as part of an extended bullying campaign. Someone videoed the altercation, and the video went viral. Two weeks later Ashawnty hung herself in her closet.
Or 10-year-old Kevin Reese, Jr., who hung himself in a closet when he reached his limit of bullying at school.
These are just the stories in the news. Stories that have received wide attention. As well they should. But there are so many more that are the grief of a school and a family wherever they happen.
Watch for the Signs
Here are some warning signs to watch for: Is your child feeling overwhelmed with school work? Is she experiencing cyberbullying? In fact, if she’s spending much time on social media she may be increasing her risks… Are there problems within the family? And is she faced with bullying? (or is she being a bully?)
It turns out that some children who have been bullied become a bully themselves. Either behavior adds to their suicidal risk.
You, her parent, need daily input from your child, including really listening and responding. They must know they have your support. Isolation can be a killer.
These girls reported they were subjected to bullying for long periods of time — but maybe they felt they had to be strong and endure it when nothing changed..?
When people in authority didn’t intervene or make them feel safe, these girls —who were happy at home — made a plan and died. Some left notes for their parents, some didn’t. So maybe this is a part of the answer to that question, “why are young girls turning to suicide?” Maybe they thought it was the only solution left.
These Children and Teens Need to Be Reminded We Have Their Back
This is an age when bullying has become the norm. Children are bullied for their race, their faith, their name, their clothes, their friends, their car, their food, and their health.
In most cases, the children doing the bullying are often releasing tension from their own private lives. And are quick to say they never intended for their victim to want to die.
So it’s the parents and teachers who are their best advocates. Be sure there is a record of your report when you inform the school of any bullying you hear about from your child. Prepare yourself for mediation with the other child’s parents so that child’s parents can participate in resolving the problem, as well as teachers, counselors and maybe even a principal.
Be aware that the problem of bullying is rampant. And the rise in suicides, especially among girls, is nearing epidemic proportions, so we just mustn’t assume all is well.
Pay close attention to your child and her/his responses to what happens at school or in the neighborhood. Be aware that children do look for escapes from their pain if they can’t find a solution to their situation on their own or by reporting to people in authority.
Get Ahead of the Potential for Problems
Do be proactive…Don’t assume that things are taken care of at their school. In many cases where a child died, the school had no report of bullying on file. You’re the best advocate your child has. Be involved, engaged, and stay in touch to ensure there are remedies put in place for the bullying.
The most important thing you can do is to encourage open discussions every day with your child about what she’s facing. So you’ll always know when something is going wrong.
As we said before, this applies to both boys and girls. There are still more boys ending their lives than girls, and all children need to feel safe.
So why are young girls turning to suicide? Maybe sometimes it’s because of what’s happening to them.
Suicidal Thinking Can Be Treated Before It’s Too Late
Here at Innovative Psychiatry, we treat teens who who are plagued by suicidal thinking with IV ketamine treatment when they’re as young as 14. You should seek the care of a child psychiatrist for your child who’s younger than 14 and who’s struggling with these thoughts.
IV ketamine can stop suicidal thoughts or plans within a few hours. Sometimes much faster. It’s a way to keep your teen safe from suicide while you have the time to help him or her sort out whatever is going wrong at school or at home or inside.
Even though we don’t treat children in this practice, the bully/suicide trend in children is alarming and heartbreaking. We need to be aware that children are facing things now that earlier generations didn’t. This is even being called “bullycide” in some communities.
If you (or your family member) suffers from the torment of suicidal thoughts, call us. Let’s work together to help you find peace from those thoughts, a renewed hope, and give you the opportunity set order in place in your life.
You can feel safe again, and experience joy again, and find the motivation and initiative to build the life you want to live.
To the release of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, MD