March 30, 2012

Many Questions, Few Answers

We have had a tragedy in our town this week. On Monday night, a young girl who had just turned sixteen took her own life. I don't know why she did it, and it is not my place to pursue the matter at this point with her devastated family, so all I am sure of is my own sadness and my own questions.

What is it that makes someone take that fatal step to end any possibility of a future for themselves? Most people would say it is despair and utter hopelessness. But further, what makes someone, especially someone so young, get to a place where suicide is even an option? With all the preventative measures and supports in place in our schools, in government, in society at large, why are so many young people, particularly the First Nation young people in this country, deciding to end it all? I have no real answers to that question, only some general thoughts to explore, so please, if you are still reading, bear with me.

Someone recently said that we don't love ourselves enough in this day and age. Sure, we give ourselves every luxury we can afford and seek entertainment in every possible form, but is that love? I heard a phrase the other day that has stayed with me: 'self sabotage'. I think some of us, for a variety of reasons, do that a lot. I think most of us desire the right things, good relationships, self respect and a happy ending. Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us, instead of picking ourselves up again, making amends and carrying on, just dig ourselves a deeper hole. And it is often our children who suffer for it the most.

I knew a married couple with two young girls. One day I was over at their house while our daughters played together. I noticed a brand new kitchen appliance, a KitchenAid stand mixer on the counter. I 'oohed and aahed' appropriately because I'd always wanted one. The girls' mother told me that she had gone out and bought it to get back at her husband for purchasing of a $500 golf club without telling her. Two years later the couple divorced. I know the KitchenAid/golf club battle was only one of, most likely, many incidences of the couple's demise, and perhaps was only a symbol, but I did think at the time that it seemed something like sabotage to do that to each other, and that the situation would end badly. The couple's youngest was in my daughter's class when her parents split up and it was painful to see how upset she was each and every day of that year. My daughter and I did our best to comfort her, but I know we could not have done much. The couple's girls are much older now and seem to be doing well, but no honest person would say they aren't scarred from the experience.

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." I suppose I could expand on that to say that if we do not continually examine our lives and those of our children, life may soon seem unliveable. Many teenagers demand their privacy. They go in their rooms with their computers and cell phones and lock the door, only to reappear for food. As a child with five siblings and three adults in the house, privacy was not something I was allowed much of. Our telephone was smack in the middle of the house by the kitchen, we were never allowed to lock the door even of the one bathroom (which, in any case, was unlockable) in case someone needed to pee while one of us were bathing -shocking in this day and age, I know. An adult or older sibling was always home after school to talk over the day with, and while we had the usual scraps and scrapes, we were a healthy, communicative family for the most part. Mom was continually 'checking in' with us to assess our state of mind, and was generally on top of what was going into our heads via books, movies, television, and friendships. I wouldn't dare to say that parents today do not love their children as equally as their parents loved them, but I do wonder sometimes if they are really, truly listening and examining the whole lives of their children, ever watchful for gaps in their understanding, ever coaching them in their youthful, sometimes erring philosophies. I also wonder if parents are truly examining themselves and the example they are giving their children. I know this may all sound terribly idealistic, but I would argue that it shouldn't, and further, that it should sound like the norm.

My fifteen year old daughter, who reads a variety of genres from Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice to futuristic fiction and Harry Potter, was discussing with me the new teen phenomenon, The Hunger Games, the premise of which I am less than thrilled and a novel I will not allow her ten year old sister to read. "Have you ever noticed that the entire teen section of the book store is dark?" she asked. "All the covers are mostly black. It's depressing." I have noticed, and have worked hard to expose her to a good cross-section of novels to choose from. I don't approve of censorship but I do approve of giving her my opinion, because that's what I'm here for - to guide and help her interpret the popular culture that surrounds her. Do I not have that right as a parent? Do I not have that responsibility? A few vampires and ghouls are not harmful to her psyche if they are properly mixed up with a lot of bright fictional characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Hermione Granger to keep them in their place.

There is an ad on TV for Kids' Help Phone. The graphics of the ad contain several speech bubbles while the voices of fictional callers make their pleas. "Everyone's too busy. Everyone's too busy. Everyone's too busy," are the first three pleas we hear, and it breaks my heart to hear them, but at least that child thought to ask for help. I don't know why the young girl in our community full of caring teachers, community support and youth workers, felt so alone and so despairing. Perhaps those supports were not enough to show her how to love herself and to love life enough to seek out the light when all seemed dark.

As for the rest of us, life must and will go on. Somehow we have to do better by our children.

Our fifteen year old daughter, Emma took the photo above.


  1. As I came to the end of your piece the image of the three girls from the closed society appeared in the right sidebar.
    They came from a managed society, but we forget that we're in a far larger system that's just as managed.
    I, in general, don't worry overmuch about the Vampires impinging on the minds of the teens for teens and this sort of stuff has a half life in months. Basically 'til the next monsters or whatever comes along. The teens know darn well that they are in a waiting room for something that's far more important. And lets face it it's far better they are thinking about being bitten in the neck.
    What I remember about that period of my life would be darkness. Actual lack of light. I felt something similar last year and realized I was lacking something. Reading for an hour on the WWW tossed up the notion that I was low in the B vitamins. Frankly that is whats wrong with teens more than anything else. Their hormone riddles little bodies are sucking nutrition from all quarters but should the diet be lacking. Or should the diet be slued with high sugar&salt then who knows.
    Further, our history meant we lived in the one region. Genes and the environment conformed. Nowadays we've mixing crossing vast distances. And foods from India on Monday, France Tue, Japan Wed.
    As to the Home Peoples, I expect diet has a huge input to mental health.

    Nice one.
    Well done

    1. Hi Vince, thanks for all your thoughts. Vitamin D helps me a bit in the dark months. I used to get quite dark and desperate come February each year. I'm a big believer in healthy, local foods...but you know that already. I'm very glad you have found some more light with Vit. B.

    2. I read with the D's you have to take care for they stay in the fatty tissue, and you can over-do it. The B's not so much; at all really. But they have a plethora of regulatory functions, or aids to same. Holding water is one that has a direct connection while the aiding digestion REALLY puts a ping in your step. Calcium's a right bugger though and almost all pills are made from the stuff. In general you don't need it supplemented. You get it loads of other ways. But over dosing on it causes a down that's not good. And the myth of cod-liver oil, well it isn't a myth per se. Only a dessert spoon full of olive oil will do the same for its the oil that's the factor to aid vitamin absorption not the source.
      Mind you it's best to take them first thing of a morning otherwise taking them at 3pm will have you wide eyed and bushytailed at quarter to four in the morning. :-D

    3. You've been doing your homework! That's cool about olive oil aiding vitamin absorption. It is fortunate that my kids are all really very healthy, and I do know that attending to their diet has played a large role in their mood, energy level, and general ability to fend off illness. BTW, I don't remember to take vitamins enough for them to become stored anywhere :)
      I wonder if anyone else will comment on this post...I wouldn't blame them for not wanting to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

    4. all too real...just listen to the music and read the books of this next gen and you will see what the world is feeding them...good job being on top of it mom...teen suicide seems to be on the rise...i need to check stats...i would imagine drug use is it seems to be in my neck of the woods...ugh...def need strong parents these days...

    5. Parenting is not for the faint of heart...or it shouldn't be anyway.

  2. So sorry about the girl who committed suicide, I can't imagine what her family must be going through. And I'm not surprised about the golf club/kitchenaid couple either!

    We certainly grew up in a different culture than our kids. Like you, my family had one corded phone in the high traffic zone of the house! But even then, we managed a few secrets! Coincidentally, I was just at the book store with my middle son and we remarked how there are two full shelves just for "Teen Paranormal", yes, with very dark or black cover images.

    1. I think sometimes people forget that the same basic principles still apply in life, even with all our gadgets. It is hard to keep on top of everything as a parent but we just have to keep our eyes and ears open a bit more. Thanks for reading.

  3. I think that communication and boundaries are something of the key to good parenting {but remember I'm not a parent} whther those are the almost negligable hard ones or the myriad soft ones that should surround our kids and hopefully protect them from and prepare them for the often harsh and overdemanding realities of modern life in a world increasing driven and measured by media and technology.

    I'm glad I'm not a kid these days - and sometimes even that I'm not a parent. {ouch!}

    Very thought provoking as always Rebecca. Nice one!

    1. Thanks, Al. And in your line of work, I know you know a thing or two about kids and what they need :)
      Kids crave communication and boundaries, but the problem is all those gadgets keep them out of adults' faces, so it's tempting to let them disappear in that way sometimes.

  4. Rebecca how the death of this child grieves me. Such wise words you write as you process the senseless death of this girl!

    I am struck by the BUSY, BUSY, BUSY that so many kids down time to just relax and play or read or simply lay in the sun and daydream...

    I too, need to do better by my children.

  5. As do I, Jill. I guess the goal is to find a good balance - not easy these days. It has been interesting this week, that my teenage daughter has stuck very close by my side. We have spent a lot of time together watching movies, cooking and baking, cuddling and talking. She seemed to need that extra sense of security this week. It was nice for me, too.

  6. This will sound a bit weird, but I'm always heartened to read posts which touch the extremely difficult and desperately sad topic of suicide. For broaching it at all Rebecca, I applaud you. In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 35. It's a shocking statistic, but a very real one. From my experience as a Samaritan I know that there are many, many reasons why people are driven to suicidal thoughts. I totally agree with you that all of the important things you've cited about 'good' parenting play a vital role in our children's mental well-being - at the same time, I know of situations where children from very loving, caring and nurturing families and communities have taken their own lives. There are no easy or straightforward answers, but it's so very important that we do just what you've done here; keep talking about, exploring and considering the reasons why suicides do occur. Sweeping it under the carpet and feeding the 'stigma' label, I feel, is a big failing in our society.
    I'm so sorry for the family of the young girl in your community, and for the community as a whole. Suicide has such far-reaching effects on those left behind. And I'm so sad that the young girl herself felt she was left with no other option but to end her life.
    Thank you for such an insightful and thought-provoking post.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!