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Combating the Rising Tide of Teen Violence and Suicide by Nael Chavez

To anyone mourning the recent deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, I send my deepest condolences. It is tragic that anyone commits suicide. I must add here, dear parents, that the #1 cause of death in teens and children is suicide. The Center for Disease Control states that as a whole, it is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA, and still increasing.

Again, I repeat, the #1 cause of death in teens and children in the USA is suicide.

Where is the social media attention on that? Where is the focus on this statistic as a community? I can tell you that my focus on this statistic became razor sharp when I recently experienced first hand the loss of a young family member to suicide. This is the reason I started working with troubled teens, and have founded a non-profit focused on prevention.

In my twelve years as a child counselor, time and again I have found that as a community we are failing our children. I believe that all children are ours to look after and we must consider that they are in desperate need of our attention.

I lose most people at this point, as they tend to reply, “That’s just sad, but not really my problem.” Why do we feel it’s not our problem? I believe it’s because it’s easier to blame the victim’s parent, their upbringing or their social status. I have found that we are becoming numb to compassion and empathy and are beginning to accept suicide and school violence as the norm.

I can imagine what may be going through your mind right now as you read this. How do we change this? Is it even possible? How can I help? I am just trying to get through life and raise my own kids, how could I possibly make a difference?

And by the way, I’ve heard all of these reasons before.

Following are some of my thoughts as to how we can begin to help.

1. Remind children by all the means possible that they are enough and they are loved.
2. Remind them to love themselves.
3. We’ve got to have genuine communication and connection with our children. Start with those in your midst. Meet their eyes, look into their hearts, and share authentically with them.
4. Take the time to play catch with a ball with a boy or girl you know (even for just five minutes). I am sure you know a single parent around your neighborhood that you could support in this way. Partner with the parents and offer them a break for even a small period of time. It just might surprise you what a difference your thoughtful, kind attention can make.
5. I am sure you know of a teen at risk in your community that you could invite for dinner or offer to come with you to church.
6. Can you reach out to a kid today and love them?

For some, this may be uncomfortable. I understand. But let me tell you that depression, anxiety, PTSD and behavioral challenges do not discriminate on income or race, so the next victim of a tragedy could be in your child’s school or your neighborhood, so be uncomfortable for a bit. It will become easier, and hopefully second nature, to you to reach out to youth in this way, as often as possible.

It is important to consider this surge of teen violence like a “virus” and a cure is to provide loving “community, as it raises immunity.” Immunity against lowered self-worth, hopelessness, and disconnection

I live in southern California, and I hear the blaming of video games, Hollywood media, disinterested parents, schools, guns, and more for this disturbing upsurge in violence and suicide. Are you tired of the same old rhetoric? Are you possibly even emotionally numb at this point? Do supportive thoughts and prayers get you off the hook of actually doing something about it?

Let me ask you a couple of question, and be honest:

1. When was the last time you met or had a brief conversation with your neighbors?

2. When was the last time you smiled at a teenager and said “Hi” to them?

Here are some solutions to start shifting this wave of violence:

• Regularly scheduled community and neighborhood events

• Active parent, teacher and neighborhood associations

• More nature-based playgrounds

• Accessible dog parks

• Convening as a family together in nature, and

• Slowing down to listen and hear what your loved ones have to say and how they feel.

Most importantly, it’s about making time to listen to teens and taking the time to do things that your child loves (which may or may not be the things you love).


1. If your teen loves video games, take five minutes to get your favorite drink and watch them play. And I don’t mean get on your phone and kind of watch them. Really engage in watching them play.

2. Sit down to enjoy what he or she enjoys, even if you have to fake it or learn to love it, for only five min. Remember to let your kids steer this ship. Don’t cramp their style.

3. Listen to loud music in the car once in a while. Yes, even the one with bad words that they like. Give them some space to freely express where they are at in terms of feelings, music, friends or school.

I recently watched the entire two seasons of the Netflix hit program, “13 Reasons Why.” As I watched the raw, eye-opening nature of the show, a light bulb went off for me as to why so many teens love it. I believe it’s because they can relate to it. But then I thought, what is it that they are relating to? What is the spreading “virus” they relate to that is killing our youth?

It appears that a lack of communication and human connection in our communities could be fueling the fires of discontent and depression in our younger population. A teen or child has absolutely no space to just be themselves, which is much less on social media, without being ridiculed or isolated. Perhaps they are socially awkward and hurting tremendously with isolation at school only to come home to live under a dictatorship with little or no say in how their home life is run.

Look around you the next time you are in a public space, a restaurant or even the park. You’ll probably notice that almost everyone is isolated unto themselves through their technology. It seems there is little or no need or purpose for human connection. This, I feel, is the “virus” that is killing our youth.

There is a story I recall of a camp that rescued young orphan elephants from poachers. After a few months, they started finding dead rhinos every day. It did not make any sense since the entire body of the rhino including the horn was intact. The team decided to place surveillance cameras around and what they found had never before been seen. The young elephants had ganged up and savagely killed the rhinos. People were unsure what contributed to this unusual violence in the animal kingdom.

The cameras revealed there was no community of elephants; no elder elephants around to teach, guide, connect, and offer loving oversight to the young.

Is this what is happening to our society?

• Are we not connecting, communicating, loving, and guiding our youth?

• When was the last time you physically hugged your teenager?

• When was the last time you celebrated a teen being their goofy, loud self?

• When was the last time you made room for a child to express themselves without judgment or lectures?

It’s time to connect and communicate with our kids, but not with lectures and condescending comments.

Try joining forces with school programs in your area, counselors, youth programs, and work together to create immunity to the “violence virus” in our teens and children.

You, yes YOU, are the answer by creating community and changing your part of the world through communication, community, and expressing loving kindness to a teen today.

I leave you with this question:

“Can you reach out to a kid today and show them love?”

Focusing on our youth is imperative; they are our NOW and our TOMORROW.



NAEL CHAVEZ was born and raised in Mexico. As a child, he experienced so many challenges that by the age of 14 he was homeless and undocumented in the US. His story is one of Courage and Tenacity.

Today, in addition to being a husband and parent, Nael is an international public speaker, author, athlete, coach, family, youth and grief counselor, and Youth at Risk expert.