sad teen girlWe’ve written a lot of posts about suicide, but I wanted to address a recent news story. The latest teen suicide to hit the media is that of 15-year-old Christian Adamek. On September 25th, he streaked a football game; by October 2nd, he was dead from self-inflicted injuries. There are lessons for all of us to learn in the sequence of events from his prank to his demise.

We’ve written before about how teens are impulsive, and often lack the skill to research, understand, or even sometimes consider the consequences of their actions. For example, most normally functioning adults would not streak a football game (even if they felt like it), for fear of being arrested or charged with a crime.

Teens are a different matter. My high school friends used to think it was hysterical to flash passing cars, and I doubt the thought of legal issues ever crossed their mind. The incoming freshman talent show at college was streaked by an entire rugby team, and streakers highlighted my sophomore year organic chemistry final, various student music shows, and multiple study sessions in the library and coffee shop. Streaking is one of those activities in which the impulsivity, sense of humor, need for peer appreciation, and boundary-pushing of adolescence all combine to make it an attractive option. Christian did get reinforced by his peers on Twitter and Youtube after the fact, with one stating that “Sparkman’s new slogan is gonna be “Welcome to Sparkman High School, Home of Christian Adamek”.

The school, understandably, was not as appreciative. Administrators reportedly were considering expulsion, as well as filing charges formally in court. This could have led not only to indecent exposure charges, to being labeled as a sex offender.

These consequences are so frightening to me, that I can’t imagine how terrifying they are to a 15-year-old. I can certainly see a judge letting an ashamed, apologetic teen off the hook for this, but I doubt Christian could see it. Faced with this prospect, Christian hung himself, and died two days later. It’s possible that Christian was depressed; even the happiest-seeming teen can be hiding a storm inside. But from the information available, this seems to be a response to panic, and a sense that there was no way out of this mess.

While I don’t know how harshly the school administration was talking to Christian, it is worth noticing that taking a hard line with kids and threatening them with scary consequences is not always the best option. They may have overemphasized the likelihood of an awful outcome. It’s hard, when faced with a teen acting stupidly,and especially illegally, not to point out how their actions could lead to terrible consequences- and many times it’s necessary. But in a case where nobody was hurt, the teen was obviously playing a silly prank as opposed to being malicious, and the behavior was over, they may have gone too far.

The adolescent thinking that leads to doing something impulsively stupid,  can also make them assume that they have no way out of a situation save a drastic one. When teens are faced with an immediate fate they find terrifying- whether it’s a sure thing or no- it’s very important to recognize that they are not thinking about the situation as an adult would.  If your teen is in this situation, tell them that you are there for them and will help them through this. Ask them if they’re thinking of doing anything desperate. Ask them if they’re thinking of hurting themselves because they feel trapped.

Since this story is so widely spread across the headlines, you might ask your teen if they’ve seen it. Talk about what happened, what they think went wrong, and how they think it could have been prevented. Ask why they think the media is paying so much attention to it; what is it saying to our culture that makes it so relevant? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these topics, as well. Please comment below!