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Typical adolescents are dealing with a number of critical incidents in their lives, three of which are mass shootings in schools, cyberbullying and suicide. The Gun Violence Archive reports 340 mass shooting in 2018. Other events include: Columbine, 1999, killing 15 students; Red Lake Senior High, 2005, killing 8; Amish School shooting , 2006, killing 6; Virginia Tech, 2007, killing 33; Northern Illinois University, 2008, killing 6; Sandy Hook Elementary, 2012, killing 28; Oikos University, 2012, killing 7; Umpqua Community College, 2015, killing 9; and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, killing 17.

Adolescents who survive mass shootings may experience survivor’s guilt. They may have intrusive thoughts, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and feelings of helplessness, nightmares, and withdrawal from social interactions. Somatic complaints such as stomachaches and headaches can develop and, in severe cases, adolescents may consider suicide because they believe they should have died and not their schoolmates. They may express a sense of hopelessness, inattentiveness, and an inability to focus on their schoolwork. Critical incidents may trigger all kinds of more serious emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, and anger, all cause for concern. Adults should watch for these responses in their children.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death during the ages of 15 to 24 in America. The prefrontal cortex of the adolescent brain is involved in decision-making, planning and self-control. However, this part of the brain is still developing until the age of 25 which is why impulsive behavior is more common in teens and young adults.

Unfortunately, there is no typical profile for those who commit suicide. Approximately two-thirds of people talk about self-harm before they attempt suicide. Because their brains are still immature, adolescents tend to be more impulsive when considering suicide. Drugs and alcohol increase impulsive behaviors.

Red flags for suicidal ideation include alarming changes in behavior, including alcohol or drug use, sadness, shame, hopelessness, poor short-term memory, fatigue, sleep disturbances and morbid thoughts. Depression, anxiety and anger can be present or can be exacerbated by trauma.

Cyberbullying is another major problem. It can include posting rumors, sexual remarks, threats, mocking the intellectually disabled, and reveal personal information that is embarrassing or humiliating. Amazingly, more than half of all youths have experienced cyberbullying. However, fewer than 20 percent notify their parents that they have been bullied. Bullies coerce people to provide private information and then share it with the world for the purpose of embarrassing them. Bullies will repeatedly send intimidating messages or masquerade themselves by creating a fake online identity.

The emotional damage incurred by bullying can have a devastating effect on the recipient. Issues teens use to bully each other often involve sexual matters. Homosexual and transgender teens are mocked, and have threats made against them. Teens who have sent nude pictures of themselves to someone with whom they are romantically involved may find when the relationship ends that their picture has been disseminated across campus. Such humiliation can deeply affect a person. When a stigma is involved, young people are less likely to seek help.

Sometimes your youngster is emotionally exhausted by all the demands life places on them. They need parental reassurance. Talk to your child or teen and listen. Missed opportunities can prolong the pain your youngster is experiencing when they have experienced bullying or a traumatic event. And remember, since young people don’t tend to talk to parents, you need take responsibility and learn as much as you can, especially if your child may be considering acting on suicidal thoughts. Show your youngster love and understanding.

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Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.

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