With a tear in her eye his mother joked that if J.C. was still alive, she would ground her sixteen-year-old son for killing himself. Unfortunately, her attempt to remain somewhat lighthearted after her son’s death reveals the tragic root of the problem.
Teens have more legal restrictions than ever before. And as society continues to get stricter, teen suicide is skyrocketing.
The suicide rate for white children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016, the latest data analysis available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, the rate of increase was higher — 77%.
A study of pediatric hospitals released last May found admissions of patients ages 5 to 17 for suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled from 2008 to 2015. The group at highest risk for suicide are white males between 14 and 21.
Throughout most of human history, this 16-year-old boy would be considered a young adult, largely autonomous from his parents, with the same rights as the rest of adults in a given society. In fact, boys between 14 and 21 have more often, throughout the world and human history, been considered adults.
But modern Western society artificially extends childhood and the restrictions that go with it. These young men are considered children.
It is easy to say, “my house my rules.” And since parents do house and feed their teens they have some right to set the rules.
But the teenager faces legal restrictions from providing for himself. Teenagers are largely captive, and this dynamic, which children are thrust into by the parents, means parents actually owe their kids a level of material support. This all gets into the philosophy of parenting, which we have written about at length. It informs this discussion so if this concept is confusing, please read our parenting for freedom series.
What do the “experts” say?
Experts say teens just need more access to mental health counseling and prescription drugs.
Experts and teens cite myriad reasons, including spotty mental health screening, poor access to mental health services and resistance among young men and people of color to admit they have a problem and seek care…
Then there’s the simple fact they are teens.“With this population, it’s the perfect storm for life to be extra difficult,” says Lauren Anderson, executive director of the Josh Anderson Foundation in Vienna, Va., named after her 17-year-old brother who killed himself in 2009. “Based on the development of the brain, they are more inclined to risky behavior, to decide in that moment.”
But if that is true–that the problem is the messed up teenage brain–what changed?
Teens have not killed themselves at such a high rate since Romeo and Juliet was written 400 years ago. Yet the age-old tale of Romeo and Juliet reveals the same reasons why teens kill themselves today. Restrictions on their freedom and autonomy drive them to desperation.
Did teens once have access to psychiatrists and medication that were suddenly ripped away from them? Nope.
It is concerning that the “experts” try to pin rising teen suicides on a defective teenage brain, and refusal to seek counseling. You could call this victim blame.
It reveals that the “experts” are part of the problem. They view teens as unruly children who must be controlled, with drugs if necessary, until their brains fully develop–at 21, or 25, or 30 years old or something. The age keeps getting older.
Drugs and counseling treat the symptoms once they arise. But a true cure will prevent the illness in the first place.
The Root Cause of Teen Suicide
Robert Epstein chronicles the artificial extension of childhood over the past 150 years in painstaking detail in his book, Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families From the Torment of Adolescence.
He pegs most social problems among teens on the increasing restrictions they constantly face. While teens may be inexperienced compared to older adults, they are not children, neither physiologically nor mentally. But when you treat young adults like children, it leads to anger, depression, and in extreme cases suicide.
[T]he National Bureau of Economic Research concluded: “Suicide rates among youths aged 15-24 have tripled in the past half-century… And for every youth suicide completion, there are nearly 400 attempts.” … They speculate that one of the main factors contributing to this trend is a lack of “direct economic” or “familial power.” Suicide is a way that young people try to “resolve conflicts” or “signal distress.”
But where there are crises, there are also opportunities, in this case for the drug companies. … [R]ather than addressing the causes of the problem, parents, physicians, and policy makers went for the quick fix. Between 1995 and 2001 the rate at which psychotropic drugs were prescribed for teens increased by 250 percent.
These same conditions–mainly coercion and the denial of autonomy–contributes to mental illness in adults.
But what makes it worse in teens is the extremity of their oppression. If an entire society were treated like American 13-20-year-olds, it would be among the most restrictive and authoritarian in the world.
Robert Epstein conducted a survey called the Infantilization Scale on 13-17-year-olds. The survey measured different ways teens felt like they were treated as children rather than adults. Then he gave the same teens a standard psychological test called the Adolescent Psychopathology Scale.
While he notes that correlation does not equal causation, Epstein says the data suggests “the more we treat teens like children, the more signs of psychopathology they show.”
Further supporting evidence includes the emergence of the “troubled teenager” at the same time laws restricting teenagers began increasing. Epstein notes “cultures that maintain a continuum between childhood and adulthood,” as opposed to setting arbitrary legal ages for rights, show few signs of teen turmoil. But once that continuum is broken in those cultures, the problems present themselves.
In preindustrial societies, where young people are rapidly integrated into adult society at an early age, teen turmoil is largely absent… Where teen problems are beginning to emerge in various countries around the world, they can be traced to the increasing isolation of teens from adults brought about by Western educational practices, labor restrictions and media.
Parents, School, and the Law
In the past, and in other cultures, teens routinely find meaningful employment or apprenticeships, and have the freedom to pursue love interests, and even get married and start a family.
But teens in America have to ask the government for permission to work, and their parents for permission to date. Parents and government exert legal restrictions on young adults long past childhood. Drinking alcohol, staying out late, traveling, driving a car, owning certain means of self-defense, and so many other aspects of young adults’ lives are dictated by parents and the law.
Schools monopolize young people’s time. And while attendance is compulsory, rights are non-existent. Students must submit to random searches without due process, ask permission to use the bathroom, and speak and eat when told.
The mom that tries to hold back tears with a joke about grounding her son who killed himself is sadly, part of the problem. She reveals that her only idea to combat his depression was more restriction.
Surely she meant well and wanted the best for her son. But good intentions are not enough. We must recognize the underlying causes of teen suicide and depression. Young adults need their freedom in order to be happy, healthy, and productive, just like all human beings deserve.