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Let's talk about the link between teen suicide & parental expectations

May. 5, 2017
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Love it or hate it, 13 Reasons Why has performed no small feat in dragging the issue of teen suicide and alienation back into the spotlight. Public attention to the issue has ebbed and flowed over the decades, but the statistics haven’t: according to the Healthy Children Organization, suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals ages 15-24. Thousands of teenagers kill themselves every year in the United States alone, commonly suffering from anxiety, depression, abuse, and peer pressure. But when it comes to the stressors weighing most heavily on teenagers, there’s one major factor that often goes overlooked: the burden of parental expectations. 

“Personally, I struggle with depression, recovering from traumatic experiences, and anxiety,” said Adam Jones, age 17. “My parents have recently had some kind of interaction with the divine and have come to the conclusion that I need to be a straight-A student who can juggle everything perfectly, and I don't fit their ideal cookie-cutout boy.”

As teenagers and young adults, individuals are faced with some of the most difficult times of their lives, struggling between the two worlds of being a child and becoming an adult. In school, and in their family life, teens are pressured by and compared to those surrounding them, leading to destructive thoughts and behavior. “I personally struggle with my appearance to my family and friends,” said Alexandria Nelson, age 16. “I always feel like I'm the dullest pencil or the last one. I always try to better myself for my family and get their approval, but I stress myself beyond belief trying to reach that perfection.” 

According to the Do Something Organization, 7 in every 10 teenage girls believe they are not good enough and don’t measure up when compared to their friends and family members. 44% of girls and 15% of guys in highschool are attempting to lose weight to alter their appearance, and an estimated 75% of girls with low self-esteem have reported having an eating disorder and inflicting self harm. 

It’s been proven that the top desire among teens is for their parents to learn to communicate with them better--to engage in open conversations and understand where they're coming from without judgement or punishment. “My grades and school are certainly a major aspect to feeling pressured,” said Nelson. “I have never felt anything worse than when my mom tells me how disappointed she is in me. She excessively tells me how I lie to her, how she doesn't trust me anymore, and that's hard to hear coming from someone who I always thought would be with me through thick and thin. It's tough feeling loved by someone who doesn't watch how their words affect their children.”

Teen Help reports that depression is the top mental health disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 8.3% of teens every year. Open communication about mental health and body image must be an ongoing conversation among friends and family, and that comes with fostering an environment of support and acknowledgment.  

“I realize that no one is perfect and my goal isn't the ultimate perfection, per se: it's the ultimate acceptance,” said Nelson. “I don't think all discipline should go down the drain, but parents should be more aware of what can affect the mental state of kids, kind of a How would you feel? situation. I believe everyone should love themselves because they are them--there is no one else in the world EXACTLY like you. ‘Individual’ is a word for a reason.”

Want to get involved in the conversation?

Donate or volunteer with an organization dedicated to supporting teens’ mental health. Proud2BMe, TheTribe, End Teen Suicide, and The Body Positive are all great options!