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The Family Prosperity Institute
                                                                   Teen Suicide: How Does the Community Cope,
                                                              and What Do We Say to Children and Adolescents?

                                                                                         Judith Rand, PhD
                                                                                         Copyrighted 2013


When tragedies occur such as the recent teen suicides in Rockwall, Texas, how should parents, family members, and friends deal
with it and what should they say to children who may be struggling emotionally to cope with the sudden death?

The tragic ending of a teenager’s life is complicated. In today’s electronic era, it can involve sexting, cyber-bullying, peer-to-peer
bullying; secrecy, isolation, and trauma; and the profound impact of the inability of most adolescents to manage their electronic
devices in a safe and appropriate manner without the close supervision of wise and caring adults.

This article addresses the preliminary issues of coping strategies for parents, family members, and friends, and what to say to
children and adolescents about a classmate’s suicide. The loss of a child, loved one and/or friend is heart-breaking for anyone. A
classmate or friend’s death may be the first experience for many children of the loss of someone’s life. The weight of community-
wide grief and loss may seem almost unbearable. The loss of life at the loved one’s own hand is even more traumatic.

There is a grief process, but not everyone goes through it, or even experiences all of it, in the same way. There is no right way to
grieve. In general, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Knowing the process of
grief can provide insight and guidance to individuals, families, and communities in coming to terms with the trauma of an adolescent’s
self-inflicted death.

Frequently in American society, we attempt to protect young people from discussions of death, and even more so, of suicide. We
cannot pretend that they do not or cannot understand death, loss, and grief. We cannot exclude them from the grieving process. They
grieve the loss of loved ones in a very similar way to adults. Some helpful coping strategies for teens include talking about their peer’s
death, crying when they think about their loss, expressing their loss in an artistic way and even dedicating artwork in their classmate’
s name, or expressing their pain through physical activity and sports especially when dedicated to the memory of their friend. The
subject of suicide is a much bigger issue. Given the increased incidence and prevalence of suicide among teens, we need to address
this taboo subject in a prominent and influential forum.

In the weeks following a teen’s death, adults need to focus on the reality of their loss, experience the emotional pain of their loss,
adjust to familiar situations in which the teen is now missed, and find ways to memorialize the adolescent’s life. The tougher issues
related to teen suicide listed above can be and will be addressed further down the road when the community is in a better position
emotionally to do so. A community tragedy demands a community-wide response and solutions. With time to grieve, we, the
community, will examine the relevant issues, so that a teenager’s life will not be lost in vain.

As part of the community, many can provide consistent positive support for those who grieve the violent loss of teen suicide.
However, you cannot provide the best support for others who grieve if you are not properly taking care of yourself and attending to
your own grieving process. There is nothing wrong with stepping away from the situation when it feels too overwhelming. Taking a
break and getting in touch with your own sources of support prevent or ameliorate burnout and secondary trauma.