The increasing trend of teenage suicide is more than disturbing — it’s downright scary. And the main cause of distress leading these young people to take their lives has been widely published. Bullying — in person and through social media and texting — has had devastating effects on the psyches of young people in critically formative stages.
So this week we bring you an In Focus exclusively on “gossip” (Pages 9-12) — a bad habit that festers not only within the halls of schools and online, but in families, work places and, yes, churches.
As one sidebar in the story reports, one in 12 teenagers have attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 4,600 young people commit suicide each year, making it the third-leading cause of death among that age demographic in the United States.
To put a face on those numbers, all you have to do is Google “bullying” and “teen suicide” together and the now-silent witnesses stare back at you. A 12-year-old in New York who hung himself after two years of bullying. Two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old in Canada who took their lives after social media smears. Four British teenagers who, in 2013 alone, all killed themselves after interactions on an online networking site. A teenager in Iowa with same-sex attraction who committed suicide in July — and was the fifth case of suicide in the same high school in five years. And, trust me, the list goes on and on.
Michelle Martin, who wrote the In Focus, told me that the topic had sparked family discussion around her dinner table. Conversation was sparked, too, during our staff’s planning meeting as we outlined the elements of the story package. It’s my hope that the story will encourage similar conversations — the good kind! — within your own communities.
In a homily in April, Pope Francis said that gossip starts “sweet at first (then) ruins your soul.” With his comments, the pope takes a page out of the great St. Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life,” in which the doctor of the church devotes an entire chapter to the dangers of slander.
“Beware of ever unjustly imputing sins or faults to your neighbor, of needlessly disclosing his real faults, of exaggerating such as are overt, of attributing wrong motives to good actions, of denying the good that you know to exist in another, of maliciously concealing it, or depreciating it in conversation,” he writes. “In all and each of these ways you grievously offend God.”
Pretty straightforward — and without a whole lot of room for the “but everybody does it” wiggle room we prefer to extend to ourselves.
The good news is that the more we practice better behaviors, the easier it will be to live them out. If we find ourselves falling short, we can always whisper a prayer to St. Francis. He’ll help us along the way.
Thoughts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.