I watched a mom bury her son this week. He was 13. The cause of death — or at least motivation for death — remains unclear. But it made me think. It made me think of the adolescent that ends all intentionally… the one who has concluded at such an incredibly young age — an age with so much, much more to know, grow and explore — that life simply isn’t worth living. What makes them think that?
The IndyStar, my original hometown paper, recently chronicled the life of one such 13 year old. Let none of my words stand for theirs…
“On the afternoon of the worst day of Terry Badger II’s life, the text message from his son never came. ‘Hey dad, I’m home. Going to do my homework. I’ll see you here in a little bit.’ Thirteen-year-old Terry Badger III sent those words, or some variation of them, every single afternoon to his dad at work, just like the morning messages Terry sent without fail that said, ‘I’m up. Getting ready for school. Love you.’
His dad got the morning message from Terry on March 6. But not the afternoon one. That was odd. Terry was home from school. His mom, Robyn, had dropped him off just after 3 p.m. then left for a quick run to the gas station. She had no reason to think she shouldn’t leave Terry alone. There were no signs. On the car ride home, Terry had acted like he always acted, smiling, happy, nothing out of the ordinary, Robyn said. He talked like he always talked, about his plans to get his homework done so he could go to the baseball field at 4:30 p.m. to practice batting with his dad and some friends. But Terry wasn’t really thinking about batting practice or homework on that car ride home, his parents later found out. He wasn’t thinking about texting his dad after school. His parents found that out when they watched the video Terry recorded just after 3 p.m. on March 6. Their son was in a very dark place. Terry believed, in those moments, his life wasn’t worth living.”
That leads us to a simple search of Wikipedia which yields the following insight: “Youth suicide attempts are more common among girls, but adolescent males are the ones who usually carry out suicide. Suicide rates in youths have nearly tripled between the 1960s and 1980s… In the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the suicide rate is the 2nd leading cause of death for adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14, and the third leading cause of death for those between 15-19.”
In other words, this is a problem.
Let’s go a few places quickly, attempting to get at least some grip as to the why — why the intentional end?… what was the adolescent’s family life like? Was it healthy? Were there solid both male and female role models? Was there any abuse? Was the core hope provided in their family something that lasts beyond the now?
We then look at social media… oh my; let me try to be kind — this instant, insulated environment that serves as the younger generation’s number one source of comparison. Comparison isn’t good, friends. Comparison lures us into making concrete conclusions about what’s good and right and true based on the hollow and incomplete. And what about the insulated world of bullying that ensues? Note Terry Badger’s words from that heartbreaking video: “I get picked on every (single) day and I hate my life. You can thank (Terry listed his bullies’ names) for this.” … I can only imagine.
Which leads us to one more place…
For the adolescent who intentionally ends his life… are we modeling for them an adulthood they’d actually want to be part of? Are we showing them what responsible and respectful behavior looks like?
Or… do we justify the bullying? Do we create better, nicer, adult-sounding words for how we torment or tyrannize? Words like the need to silence, shout another down, or God-forbid, invoke cancel culture?
Let me then ask the zillion dollar question, that any teenage death has the profound potential to prompt… are we being kind to one another?
Or… are we justifying being unkind to any? Are we acting as if adulthood is a place that justifies unkindness… or perhaps, therefore, an adult world that’s not really all that fun to be a part of.
So one more Q, as this is where my head went today… what’s it going to take? What’s it going to take to ask for forgiveness? … to grant forgiveness? To repair relationships? At the end of this earthly life, that’s really all we have: relationships. So what’s it going to take? We don’t have to minimize any wrongdoing, but we also don’t have to let the awkward get in the way. Have that conversation.
Let’s be an adulthood that the younger generation respects and actually wants to grow into.
Let’s not allow any unkindness to linger.
Bottom line: let’s do what’s better. Let’s model more to the younger generations. Let there be no kindness left on our table.