Students Are Begging Us to "Change the Culture" After Three Teen Suicides Last Week
It happened again. Three teens took their own lives here in Colorado last week. Two of the boys were students at the middle school and high school that my husband attended. Like all local parents, I watched the all too familiar footage of teens gathered to mourn and tears sprang hot in my eyes as I wondered what in the world is going on.
The teen suicide rate has spiked in Colorado in the last few years. In fact, it’s almost double what it was ten years ago. And that’s true across the nation, as well.
I poured over social media posts by my grief stricken friends whose children were classmates of the boys who are now gone. I read the local news with quotes of school administrators and explanations of myriad counselors. Of course many offered the perspective that social media plays a key role—a source of bullying, suicidal ideation, and a place for like-minded kids to gather and feed off of one another’s despair.
And then I read the tweet of a classmate of one of the high schoolers. She said, “Do you see us yet? No more ‘We have a counselor for you (along with a couple hundred other students)’ or ‘Call if you need anything’ crap. Wake up. Do something different. Change the culture. Let’s get real.” I’m with her. When 50 or 60 or 70 kids kill themselves every year (eight already this school year in Colorado), it’s time to change the culture.
Here’s what the problem is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.” We teach our kids to look only for themselves from the day they are born. We tell them, there is no God, no greater story than their own lives. Because they are the result of chance and primordial ooze, they are not responsible to anyone or anything. No, they should choose their own identities, choose their own values, make their own way. Everything from popular parenting advice to preschool education to high school indoctrination says to our kids, “Determine your own destiny. You are enough.”
These words, this way of life, is untethered and dangerous—deadly, even. No one can bear that weight. Asking a child to conjure up her own meaning of life, her own purpose, her own morality, and to forge her own way in making it all happen is to create a recipe for failure and depression. As finite humans, we simply are not enough.
For all that, we need our Maker. Again, in the words of Lewis, “If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into the thing that has them.” Jesus said that He came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10). He who created us is our only hope for a deep, abiding, soul-satisfying contentment that will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Lewis says rather than looking for yourself, “look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
Moms and dads, like the high schooler above begs us, we must change our culture. We’ve got to quit pointing our children to themselves and we must start pointing them to Him who made them. They are being crushed by the weight of our culture’s requirement that they be the source of their own purpose, meaning, and power.
These suicides are a cry for us to bring Jesus Christ, our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior, from the periphery of life to the center of it. Rather than paying Him homage on Sunday mornings (when we don’t have soccer games) we must bring him into the center of all that we say and do as a family. If we want them to thrive, we must tether our children’s identities, purposes, and futures to the One who made them. All that you and I and our children see and all that we are, “were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
This means teaching them from the very beginning that God made them. They are an intended “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10). It means viewing all of creation—sunsets and goldfish and fast legs that run around baseball diamonds—as good gifts given by God. It means praising schoolwork with Jesus in mind, “Good job on your homework, sweetie! God gave you a strong mind and I love seeing you use it.” It means loving others because he first loved us (1 John 4:9). It means when life is hard for our children we call on Him with them—we look to Him for strength for the day at kindergarten and comfort when friends are mean. God is our refuge and strength, not ourselves.
Last year 68 kids killed themselves in Colorado alone. We have no choice but to drastically change our culture. May we parents and teachers and community leaders humble ourselves and begin the revolutionary work of re-centering our lives and our families and our classrooms back to what is true: God created us, He sustains us, Jesus came that we may have life to the full. Until we each embrace and proclaim these ancient and eternal truths, our children will remain untethered, without hope, and in grave danger.