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Teenage Suicide And The Media

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Autor:  anton  06 September 2010
Tags:  Teenage,  Suicide
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Teenage Suicide: How the Media Influences Teenagers

Fiction: Only "bad" kids who have the wrong friends and bad lives commit suicide. Fact: Kids who have the right friends and a bright future in front of them commit suicide. Fiction: Music, movies, and other forms of media do not influence teenagers in any way, shape, or form. Fact: Music, movies, and other forms of media are influencing teenagers to commit suicide.

Teenage suicide is on the rise at an alarming rate. While depression and other social pressures play a significant role in suicide among teenagers, there is evidence showing that music, movies, and other ways the media portrays suicide as glamorous and noble is having a major influence on teenagers considering suicide.

Every year more than 4,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide and another 400,000 attempt suicide; the number of suicides may be even higher because many suicides are hidden by families who report the suicides as accidents or murders (Klagsburn 16). "Suicide now ranks as the third leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, trailing only accidents and homicides"(Worsnop 371). Over the past four decades, teenage suicide rose a staggering 200 percent (Waters 49). "Of all the suicides studied among people under 25, nearly two-thirds of them were committed with guns, teenagers who committed suicide by hanging themselves ranked second, and poisoning ranked third" (Colburn 5.)

There are many warning signs of suicide. A teenager contemplating suicide will drop numerous clues before attempting suicide. Such warning signs as withdrawal from the family, changes in eating and sleeping habits, as well as loss of interest in schoolwork or favorite activities, such as participation in athletics. Some teenagers express a preoccupation with pain, death, or suicide. They often talk of death and make actual threats to end their life. Many teenagers will drop verbal clues such as: "I might as well be dead," or "you'll be sorry when I'm gone." (Goldstein, 55.) A preparation for death may take place, for instance, giving away prized possessions (Worsnop, 372-73).

In some cases, the most ominous sign of suicidal

intent is the sudden onset of apparent peace of

mind after a long period of troubling behavior.

Such a mood change may indicate the person has

finally resolved to commit suicide and thus has

achieved a kind of tranquility. (Worsnop, 373)

There is a wide range of causes that drive teenagers to commit suicide. These causes can vary from depression to drugs to school and family pressures. According to Francine Klagsburn in her book, Too Young to Die, "No single cause can explain all suicides. Suicide is such a complex matter that it involves every aspect of life." (121) Anthropologist Edward Westermark was of the same thinking and found there are many motives including disappointed love or jealousy, illness, death of a loved one, shame, pride, anger and revenge (Choron 10). A 1986 government survey attempted to answer the question, "Is there something different [today] about the sense of despair, the sense of hopelessnessВ…that youngsters feel suicide is a reasonable solution?" (Klagburn, 12) The survey asked experts in suicide research and prevention to list the characteristics of youth at risk of committing suicide. "Half of the respondents cited family conflicts, more than one-third mentioned physical or sexual abuse, and 17 percent named alcohol or drug abuse" (Worsnop 372). David C. Clark, director of Chicago's Center for Suicide Research and Prevention, was also quoted, citing some of the suicide triggers of an at risk teen:

In the vast majority of cases, they say, there

is an underlying mental illness that is responsible

for suicide. Clark estimates that about 25 percent

of youth suicides are due to depression, 25 percent

to alcohol or drug abuse and about 40 percent fall

into the category of conduct disorder, which involves

a long standing pattern of lying and breaking rules

at home and in school.(Trafford, 6)

Also, teens today have trouble seeing good in the world around them. The future for most teens is hard to envision let alone feel secure about. Author Jacques Choron writes in his book, Suicide:

Thus the high incidence of suicide among

adolescents is explained by their inability

to envision broad goals and perspectives

which make it hard for them to cope with

difficulties, and which is due to lack of

experience or faulty education. (73)

A major cause or contributing factor is the media. Although the media may not be a direct cause of teenage suicide, it definitely influences troubled teens and adolescents. The technological advances of today allow children and teenagers to see and hear things, which can influence them to believe that suicide is a solution. Even documentaries and movies made to deter suicide somehow subtly glamorize suicide and make it look appealing. "Television, according to one theory, leads children to expect quick answers and undermines their ability to tolerate frustration. Programs present serious problems and solve them in half an hour. Life just does not work that way" (Time 43).

There are many copycat incidents after teens view movies or hears a news broadcast about suicide. A tragic example of this is the story of Stephen Nalepa, a second-grader at Gallimore Elementary School in the Plymouth-Canton Community School District in Canton, Michigan. On Friday, March 23, 1990, second and third-graders were shown a movie titled "Nobody's Useless." The film was set in 19th century American, and it was about a young amputee who becomes depressed and tries to commit suicide twice. The first time he tried to drown himself; the second time he tried to hang himself. At the end, with the help of an older friend, he successfully learns how to deal with his depression. The night after the movie was shown to the children, Stephen's brother found him hanging by a belt from the safety rail of the upper bunk bed in his room. When he was taken to the hospital, he was pronounced dead by suffocation (Zirkel, 91).

Another example of movies having a tragic impact on teenagers happened in New York City. In September 1986, teenage suicides rose significantly two weeks after three television movies aired. There were three suicides in New York City before the airing of the movies, compared to thirteen suicides after the move (Science News, 132). "В….researchers add that other studies show a significant increase in teen and adult suicides just after television reports of actual suicides, especially if the reports are repeated on different days and run by several media sources"(132).

There are some people who have realized the problem about how teenage suicide is portrayed by the media and have taken a stand against it. Dan Waters wrote the script for the movie Heathers, an offbeat comedy about teenage suicide and murder. Steve Pond wrote about Water's reasons for writing the script in the magazine Rolling Stone:

He found his theme after becoming disgusted

by the media's portrayal of teen suicide as

noble. "You would see all these motives about

teenagers wracked with all this pain," he says,

"and then they would commit suicide, and

their parents would not be sad, all their

friends would be SadВ…That's not a deterrent.

That's every person's Ultimate fantasy- -

to see their own funeral.(Pond 38)

A Former Presidential candidate took a step toward putting youth suicide on the national agenda when he attacked music and moviemakers. He stated, "a line has been crossedВ—not just of taste, but of human dignity and decencyВ…when teen suicide is set to an appealing beat"(Trafford,6).

Charlotte Ross, co-chairman of the National Committee for Youth Suicide and Prevention, is also quoted on the issue of movies influencing teenage suicide:

Even given the best intentions, it is easy

to see how such attractive and appealing

actors might glamorize the tragedy of suicide.

A troubled child who is highly suggestible may

see suicide as the solution.(Hutchings,88)

This nation must do something to prevent the media from influencing children and teenagers to take their lives as a solution to their problems. A possible solution would be the V chip; a chip installed into a television to rate television programs. This device would allow parents to prevent their children from watching certain shows which parents feel are too violent or inappropriate for their children to watch. Although this will not totally solve the problem, it may help bring down the suicide rate to some extent.

Teenage suicide is becoming a very prominent problem in society today. With all of the many triggers and catalysts that can influence at risk teens, the media should not glamorize the problem. Many of the programs and movies shown to try and stop suicide often tend to backfire. There may be no real way of completely filtering out these suicide "promotions," but children today should be able to turn to television for healthy, not harmful entertainment. Media is one of the biggest influences and businesses in our world and its power should be used for the betterment of society. The media often tends to glamorize certain factors within our society that can be harmful. The media in our time and our culture is so powerful that it actually influences the way people live their lives, and sometimes, the way that people die. The media within our society can influence teenage suicide rates.


"All Carnage, All the Time." Newsweek.23 Aug 1999: 60-61.

Choron, Jacques. Suicide. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972.

Colburn, Don. "Sharp Rise Reported in Youth Suicide." The Washington Post. May 9, 1995: h-5.

Dizard, Wilson Jr. Old Media, New Media: Mass Communications in the Information Age. New York: Longman, 1997.

Goldstein, Jeffrey. Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Hutchings, David. "I Started Thinking about Dying." People. February 18, 1985: 88-89.

Keller, Julia. "Too Regular Shootings Have Left Many Numb." Chicago Tribune.1 Aug 1999.

Klagsburn, Francine. Too Young to Die. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

Newton, David E. Violence and the Media: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: Instructional Horizons, 1996.

Pond, Steve. "Student Body Count." Rolling Stone. April 1989: 38.

Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry. Volume 1: Approaches, Conclusions, and Recommendations. Toronto: The Royal Commission on Violence in the communications Industry, 1976.

"TV Suicide Link: Fatal Retraction." Science News.October, 1987: 218.

"Suicide Belt." Time. September 1, 1980: 56.

Trafford, Abigail. "Death at an Early Age." The Washington Post. June 6, 1995: 6.

Waters, Harry, et al. "Teenage Suicide: One Act Not to Follow." Newsweek. April 18, 1994: 49.

Worsnop, Richard L. "Teenage Suicide." CQ Researcher 1.6 (June 6, 1991): 371-91.

Zirkel, Perry A. "Another Case of Student Suicide." Phi Delta Kappa. 77 (Sept. 1995): 91-94.

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