Ever wonder if the media your tweens and teens are watching influences their moods and mental health? Consider this. In the month following the release of the critically acclaimed but controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” the suicide rate among Americans ages 10-17 jumped by nearly 30 percent! The series, which began streaming on Netflix in 2017, follows the story of a teenage girl who took her own life and left behind 13 audiocassettes for her friends that unravel the reasons why she did it.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, analyzed five years of suicide rates among people between the ages of 10 to 64. Although there was no change in suicide rates for adults in the month after the show’s release, the rate among those under 18 rose dramatically. And it was particularly evident among boys.
These findings are troubling and should be a wake-up call for parents.
Young Brains Still Under ConstructionYoung people’s brains are still developing until their mid-20s, with girls’ brains typically developing faster than boys’ brains. In particular, the prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to mature at about age 25.
This brain region is involved in judgment, planning, forethought, and impulse control. So, you can understand why teens—and especially male teens—are more likely to make rash decisions. Even car insurance companies know this. It’s why they charge more until a driver reaches their mid-20s.
Troubled Teen BrainsSadly, suicide is a growing problem in our society. The overall rate of suicide has increased 33 percent since 1999. It is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34. And teens today are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or to suffer from depression compared with Millennials when they were the same age.
Reducing the Teen Suicide RiskThere are many things parents can do to help protect their kids from falling victim to suicide.
1. MONITOR THEIR MEDIA CONSUMPTION.Parents need to understand that what your kids and teens watch on television, online, and on social media can play a role in the development of their brain. Set limits, use parental controls, and talk to your kids about what they’re watching.
2. DON’T LET ADOLESCENTS SMOKE MARIJUANA.Research shows that using cannabis as an adolescent raises the risk of depression and increases suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts when they become young adults.
3. ENCOURAGE HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS.Did you know that teenagers who average just one hour less of sleep at night are 38 percent more likely to feel sad and hopeless, 42 percent more likely to consider suicide, and 58 percent more likely to attempt suicide?
4. PROTECT THEIR BRAIN.Head injuries and concussions—even mild ones that are never diagnosed—increase the risk for suicide. Make sure young people always wear a helmet when riding a bike and don’t let your kids hit soccer balls with their heads.
5. SEEK HELP FOR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.If your child is experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or ADD/ADHD, it’s critical to seek help for those issues. Be aware that medications don’t always work, and in some cases, they can make a teen worse. Getting a comprehensive evaluation is key to finding solutions that work.
Jeff Stull DMin PhD
Dr. Jeff Stull is an Individual, Marriage and Family Counselor who enjoys assisting his clients in developing creative alternatives to everyday life, love and work challenges. As a Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Counselor he has specialized trainings in Relationship Repair, Abuse Recovery, Adolescents, and Mindfulness. He holds certifications including Professional Counseling Supervision, Clinical Sexology, Professional Christian Counseling and Accelerated Resolution Therapy(ART). He serves his clients in Alpharetta, Cumming and Dahlonega, Georgia and all over the world via Skype.