Are You Protecting Your Child from the Risk of Suicide?

During a recent lunch with a respected educator in the area, I learned a few things about some frightening trends regarding suicide among young people. He had just attended a regional seminar in which an noted psychologist talked to the group of educators about the growing threat of suicide among young people. The expert indicated that the risk for suicide among young people has been increasing dramatically, and that there is reason to believe that violent video games are one factor (of many) in this trend. She noted that graphic video games teach people the actions needed to kill, including actions that can help you kill yourself, and the training appears to be taking a toll.

Another deadly trend it the “hanging game” that has become popular among some groups of kids. This has resulted in death that may appear to be suicide, when it was not intended.

Parents, be aware of the growing risk of suicide among American children. Here is an excerpt of a story about a recent study by the CDC:

Sept. 6, 2007 — There is a sharp rise in suicides across the board in teens, says the CDC.

They are up 76% in girls aged 10-14, up 32% in girls aged 15-19, and up 9% in boys aged 15-19. It’s the biggest spike in 15 years, the CDC’s latest teen-suicide statistics show.

“This is a dramatic and huge increase” in pre-teen and teen suicide, Ileana Arias, PhD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said at a news conference. “We are seeing this increase in significantly younger Americans than we have seen in the past.”

The data cover the year 2004, the latest year for which numbers are available. The CDC collects the information from death certificates. Because coroners and medical examiners don’t always have enough information to conclude that a death was a suicide, the actual number of suicides is likely to be higher than the official number.

The new numbers reverse a decade-long downward trend in teen and youth suicide. It’s too soon to know whether 2004 was an unusual year, or whether it marks the beginning of an upward trend. But the data suggest disturbing changes.

One disturbing change is the uptick in girls and young women committing suicide. The other disturbing change is that hanging or asphyxiation is becoming much more common — particularly among 10- to 14-year-old girls.

The rate of suicide by hanging/asphyxiation more than doubled to 68 per 1,000 girls aged 10 to 14. Since 1990, when the CDC began keeping records, this rate was never higher than 35 per 1,000 girls in the same age group.

It’s possible that this new trend toward hanging and asphyxiation is linked to a choking game that has recently become popular among schoolchildren.

As its name implies, the “game” usually involves using the hands, rope, or fabric to choke another child until he or she loses consciousness. The payoffs appear to be the brief “high” achieved during the loss and regain of oxygen to the brain, and the amusement derived from seeing a peer become disoriented.

In addition to peer influence spreading something so stupid and harmful as the “hanging game,” suicide by shooting and other forms of violence may have some connection to all the graphic violence that we allow our kids to revel in.

Link Between Suicide and Video Games?

Many studies point to some kind of relationship between exposure to violent media and violent behavior, so I would not be surprised if there is a link between suicide and violent video games and movies. But such a link will be difficult to prove conclusively, especially in the minds of those who are hooked and see nothing wrong with a few hours of graphic mayhem. I am not saying that playing popular violent games will turn your child into a murderer or victim of suicide. But I dare say that it’s more likely to hurt than help. And I dare suggest that parents should be concerned about what all this training in violence might do. For support, here is an excerpt from the article, “Do You Know What Video Games Your Children Are Playing?” by Pamela Eakes:

[P]arents may not know that the content of certain games could affect the social and emotional development of their child, and may even be hazardous to children’s health.

Violence is the most prevalent health risk for children and adolescents. Homicide, suicide and accidents are the top causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. Each year, more than 150,000 adolescents are arrested for violent crimes; more than 300,000 are seriously assaulted; and 3,500 are murdered. Violence done to and by America’s young people is a public health emergency that must be addressed by parents, physicians and policymakers.

More than 3,500 research studies have examined the association between media violence and violent behavior. All but 18 of the studies have shown that the more violence one sees, the more likely one is to be violent. According to the AAP, depictions of violence that are realistic, portrayed without pain and suffering, and experienced in the context of good feelings are more likely to be emulated.

On April 20, 1999, two heavily armed adolescent boys walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and shot 12 of their classmates and a teacher to death. Then they killed themselves. When authorities investigated, they discovered that the boys had played thousands of hours of a “first-person shooter” video game that had been modified to occur in a layout identical to that of their high school, with yearbook pictures electronically pasted onto the game’s imaginary victims. What led these boys to deliberately kill their fellow students is complicated and no single reason has been identified as the cause.

One of the questions parents asked after the Columbine shooting was: “How could it be that the parents did not know their children were playing such heinous video games?” The answer is that parents are not familiar with video games because they don’t play them.

Parents don’t know that video games that have a mature rating may contain content that is entirely inappropriate for children under the age of 17. They don’t know that a child playing an M-rated game can actively participate in the simulated murder of police officers, women, minorities and innocent bystanders. These acts are graphically depicted and include victims being shot, beaten to death, decapitated, burned alive and urinated on. These games may also present favorable depictions of prostitution, racism, misogyny and drug use.

Parents do know that children learn by observing, imitating what they observe, and acting on the world around them. According to child psychologist Michael Rich, children develop what psychologists call “behavioral scripts.” They interpret their experiences and respond to others using those scripts.

One can easily see how repeated exposure to violent behavioral scripts can lead to increased feelings of hostility, expectation that others will behave aggressively, desensitization to the pain of others, and an increased likelihood of interacting and responding to others with violence.

“No Way! This is All Garbage – Video Games ARE NOT Harmful”

That’s the typical response from video game buffs when told that the games may be affecting their behavior. What I think they really mean is this: “Video games causing rude and violent behavior? That is such a ##@&*! lie, you jerk – I’m going to break your face if you say it again.” But for those not immune to facts, there are some significant scholarly studies pointing to good reasons for parents to be concerned. Here is an excerpt from an April 2007 story in

Psychologists publish 3 new studies on violent video game effects on youths

New research by Iowa State University psychologists provides more concrete evidence of the adverse effects of violent video game exposure on the behavior of children and adolescents.

ISU Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson, Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile, and doctoral student Katherine Buckley share the results of three new studies in their book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents (Oxford University Press, 2007). It is the first book to unite empirical research and public policy related to violent video games.

Anderson and Gentile presented their findings last week at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Boston.

The book’s first study found that even exposure to cartoonish children’s violent video games had the same short-term effects on increasing aggressive behavior as the more graphic teen (T-rated) violent games. The study tested 161 9- to 12-year-olds, and 354 college students. Each participant was randomly assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game. “Violent” games were defined as those in which intentional harm is done to a character motivated to avoid that harm. The definition was not an indication of the graphic or gory nature of any violence depicted in a game. . . .

“Even the children’s violent video games — which are more cartoonish and often show no blood — had the same size effect on children and college students as the much more graphic games have on college students,” said Gentile. “What seems to matter is whether the players are practicing intentional harm to another character in the game. That’s what increases immediate aggression — more than how graphic or gory the game is.”

Another study detailed in the book surveyed 189 high school students. The authors found that respondents who had more exposure to violent video games held more pro-violent attitudes, had more hostile personalities, were less forgiving, believed violence to be more typical, and behaved more aggressively in their everyday lives. The survey measured students’ violent TV, movie and video game exposure; attitudes toward violence; personality trait hostility; personality trait forgiveness; beliefs about the normality of violence; and the frequency of various verbally and physically aggressive behaviors.

The researchers were surprised that the relation to violent video games was so strong.

“We were surprised to find that exposure to violent video games was a better predictor of the students’ own violent behavior than their gender or their beliefs about violence,” said Anderson. “Although gender aggressive personality and beliefs about violence all predict aggressive and violent behavior, violent video game play still made an additional difference.

“We were also somewhat surprised that there was no apparent difference in the video game violence effect between boys and girls or adolescents with already aggressive attitudes,” he said. . . .

A third new study in the book assessed 430 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, their peers, and their teachers twice during a five-month period in the school year. It found that children who played more violent video games early in the school year changed to see the world in a more aggressive way, and became more verbally and physically aggressive later in the school year — even after controlling for how aggressive they were at the beginning of the study. Higher aggression and lower pro-social behavior were in turn related to those children being more rejected by their peers.

“I was startled to find those changes in such a short amount of time,” said Gentile. “Children’s aggression in school did increase with greater exposure to violent video games, and this effect was big enough to be noticed by their teachers and peers within five months.”

The study additionally found an apparent lack of “immunity” to the effects of media violence exposure. TV and video game screen time was also found to be a significant negative predictor of grades.

Is the book any good? Prof. Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona (Department of Communication) seems to think so:

The studies reported in this book provide the most rigorous and compelling evidence to date about the harmful effects of violent video games. In particular, the authors’ longitudinal study of video game violence effects should silence the critics who complain about the validity of short-term, experimental lab research. Policy-makers will cite this research as a cornerstone in their future efforts to address concerns about video game violence.

These and related studies have not addressed suicide per se, as far as I know, but I think it is fair to recognize the possibility of a link. If violent behavior and attitudes in general can be increased by the interactive training created by violent games, it would seem fair to worry that violent games can make the suicide threat even greater for many young people.

No, no, no – I’m not saying that Halo 3 or any other game is going to turn little Suzy into a murderous maniac who runs out and blows herself up. But if your children are struggling emotionally or facing difficult challenges in life, is violent training and a 3-D violence-filled environment the best way to help them cope?

Perhaps they will be better helped a little more family scripture study, more service opportunities, and longer family home evenings as alternatives to blowing their peers to bits. Hey, it’s just my opinion. Call me crazy!


Author: Jeff Lindsay

23 thoughts on “Are You Protecting Your Child from the Risk of Suicide?

  1. There is certainly an increasing trend of young people, certainly from what I have seen in my own profession, of self-harm such as cut to arms, wrists and ankles.

    It’s all very disturbing =(

    Personally, I think video games do have an impact to the statistics, but I would argue that issues run much deeper than this. There seems to be an increasing trend of attachment difficulties within families. It’s all very sad; it is my prayer for God to have mercy and that He might use these disturbing situations for families to cry out to God for help…

  2. It should also be noted that when a teenager commits suicide, the chances that his/her friends will want to do the same goes up.

    I was a high school teacher in rural New Mexico, where this very thing happened. One kid did commit suicide at our school, and several of his friends were so despondant after the fact they felt the only way they could escape the pain of loosing a friend was to commit suicide themselves. That school year 5 kids committed suicide.

    Consequently, in our school, the staff was trained on suicide prevention, the signs to look for, and we took all talk of death, dying, suicide very, very seriously!

    It is important that if suicide does happen, that adults do get involoved with helping kids cope and understand the situation, and how to cope with the feelings of grief, or guilt the teen might be having.

  3. Pointing the finger of blame at video games and other media is childish, and ignores the deeper and more difficult issue to deal with, how they are raised. Yes, kids might get crazy ideas from violent video games, but it’s the parents responsibility to teach their kids right from wrong. Yes, a game like Grand Theft Auto encourages criminal behavior and misrepresents reality, the game is a lie. School teachers, politicians, preachers, business executives, scientists, news reporters, fashion magazines, even the President, human beings tell lies, whether unintentional or to their own ends. It’s up to parents to teach their children who to trust, who to believe, and how to interpret the world around them.

  4. Steve, the point of the post was that parents need to be more involved. How can parents “how to interpret the world around them” if they aren’t aware that their world includes blowing out the brains of those in their way 200 times a day glorious interactive virtual reality? How can it be “childish” to encourage parents to consider violent video games as one of the factors that might be strongly influencing the world their children are in?

  5. Then we are in agreement, all is well. Sorry, I just get a little defensive of video games sometimes, there are plenty of good ones, I just hate the bad ones like Grand Theft Auto that give the industry a bad image.

  6. Gday,

    I don’t know how much is related to video games. I think that it more reflects life at home. I played many video games through my life and don’t think it has a negative effect. I think that video games is a scapegoat for lack of parenting. Perhaps not a lack of parenting as a unsuitable role model. These kids that are harming themselves or going on a rampage. What sort of family life do they have? Are they beaten or neglected? Abuse would certainly explain a lot of the problems they are having and yes I agree that more family time and if scripture study would be great to have in homes. While I do feel that scripture study would be great, for those that don’t have scriptures (those who don’t believe or follow a different religion) I think that any positive family time is helpful to a child’s mental state.


  7. I enjoy playing video games when I can (much to my wife’s dismay) but still see much cause for concern.

    IMHO the attempt to shift the focus to bad parenting alone is somewhat of a red herring. It’s like saying arguing that drug dealers aren’t bad because good parents would keep their kids from buying drugs. I think (hope!) most people would agree that the only proper way for a parent to deal with a game like Manhunt is to keep their pre-teen far away from it, and yet there are major commercial interests that want nothing better than to put that game in the hands of children everywhere. Kind of like the action figures that came out right as “Starship Troopers” hit theaters.

    Of course those kids weren’t supposed to watch the *movie*, just play with the dolls </sarcasm>

    For both drugs and atrocious computer games, it might be true that lousy parenting and the general decay of society are major contributors, but these things are poison, pure and simple. Whether the child can avoid or overcome them due to other, good, influences is irrelevant.

  8. “Violent” games were defined as those in which intentional harm is done to a character motivated to avoid that harm. The definition was not an indication of the graphic or gory nature of any violence depicted in a game

    Pac-man eats a cherry. Ghosts scatter. Pac-man chases down and eats ghost. Same impact on aggression as GTA or Halo? Somehow I find that hard to believe.

    That said, however, the immersive and interactive nature of video games makes them a uniquely potent experience which I believe does impact gamers. People watching violent movies are passive (though immersed). Victims of a six-year old’s violent drawings are passive (though imagined active). None of the characters in an online deathmatch are passive in any sense of the word.

    Reminds me of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Can we really expect to avoid becoming what we purposefully act like, even when we try to isolate it from “real life?”

    (Apologies for posting twice in a row, but this was the Cliff Notes of my thoughts as it is)

  9. Violence is inherent in who we are. It’s enabled the continuation of the species. It’s only been very recently that it has become something that society no longer values (except of course when called upon by the state).

    The blank slaters don’t want to hear it, but much of what we become is genetically determined. Look at twin studies in drastically different environments.

    Video games might play a very weak role as one of the tens of thousands of factors that is influencing the world we are in. (And yes I enjoyed the six qualifiers you put in that sentence. Seems to somehow take away some of the punch you were going for with your original entry.) However, if you are truly concerned about violence, it would seem that going after genetic engineers or even evolution itself might be a stronger course of action.

  10. Is it a coincidence that two Apostles addressed the harm donbe by playing video games in this most recent Conference?

    First, Elder Perry, in the Priesthood Session, said, “More and more, young people are isolating themselves from others by playing video games….and unless you set the bar higher in the development of your social skills, you will find yourself underprepared.”

    Then, on Sunday afternoon, Elder Oaks said, “Team sports and technology toys like video games and the Internet are already winning away the time of our children and youth…Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death.”

    As Jeff noted, the defenses of video games tend to be ironic: “If you say video games make you violent, I’ll kill you!” Even more insidious is the “no harm” argument: “Most video games are harmless; they’re just fun.”

    If they’re so innocuous, why do they have such a strong hold on people? Why are so many addicts driven to such personal offense and virulent defenses of video games if they’re just simple toys? Why is it such a big deal? If they’re not a big deal, why not give them up? As these two Apostles have taught, even seemingly harmless games have negative consequences for those who miss out on real mental, social, and spiritual experiences by giving away their time to them.

    Playing video games “isn’t so bad?” They can be “a harmless hobby?” Sure. Same thing for smoking pot. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

    As Elder Whitney stated in the Priesthood Session, “If something in a movie [or video game] ‘isn’t too bad,’ that automatically means that it isn’t too good either.”

    It’s not about seeing what you can justify, it’s about raising the bar.

  11. Notes to self:

    – Stop having fun. Life is suffering or at the very least, not fun. No more reading, movies, athletics, music, conversation. Come to think of it, I should hermit up in that cave up in the hills.

    – Stop smoking pot.

    – Stop laughing from the smoking video games is like playing pot (wait, did I just fat finger that? must be the pot/video games. Wow, I’m having fun!) comment.

  12. Note to the world: Anon’s last note is a powerful example of the incoherent thinking and lost reading comprehension that can come from smoking pot. Stay away from weed!

  13. This thread reminds me of that pernicious evil that Brigham Young/George Q. Cannon spoke so vehemently against in the 19th century.

    The novel.

  14. Thirty five years ago I thought of suicide. Not a very happy camper when I was growing up. A number of kids commited suicide in our school and attempted suicide. No video games growing up. There is a lot going on in the human mind that can cause such thoughts and actions. It is a good message to parents, schools and friends to keep alert to such things. It is hard for some people to deal with people that are having such thoughts and actions. There is also so much more crazy things going on in our society today but people are people and go through some hard times. We just need to do our best to try and help.

  15. Dear Jeff

    I highly disagree with video games contributing to suicide. If anything it’s prolonging the inevitable due to poor parenting and a lack of nurturing from friends or family. When I was 15 until I was about 16 I was very suicidal video games are what helped me through it because no one else recognized the signs and I hid them very well. Some games are evil but violent game, does not equal, evil game. Halo is a perfect example of this the game is violent but the story behind it have very good morals and is basically a classic retelling of good versus evil, and the latest installment even has a lot of Christian symbolism in it. Video Games are todays strawmen, remember rock music was also thought of to be exactly the same. Parents instead of parenting would blame everything on rock music. Many studies even proved that it effected the behavior of those who listened to it. Now we realize that while these things can contribute to the behavior that it really comes down to the way the person is being raised. There will always be people more susceptible to harming others and while video game may help encourage that behavior the question should be why it is affecting them in the first place. straw men are always dangerous, and I have yet to see God use one because they always take the focus off what is really wrong. I do agree with one thing though, like all media there are some video games that come straight into being from the mind of the adversary, someone already mentioned the GTA, and Manhunt. I can say these are at least the worse offenders so far, and they still do not come close to the level that cinema has taken it to. Make no mistake though video games are less passive that is exactly why they have less of an effect then film. That which is more passive has a greater effect on the subconscious, and that which isn’t deals more with the conscious mind, thus the less passive the more likely something is to affect you and a behavioral level. What I’m saying I parents should know what their Kids are doing and people should stop blaming games for them not doing it. Sorry for the Essay.
    Zera Pulsipher LV NV

    Thank you for helping save my testimony when I was about 17 and ran into the Book of Abraham bull.

  16. Even the games with good and evil and morals behind it can cause harm. For me the evil was exciting and there are always those that will go after the evil. Video games are just one more things that needs to be watch by parents. When kids are having problems some times they use video games, music, bad friends: ect., you name it to go off the deep end. I think why any such distractions are talked about by church leaders is to keep us reminded to stay on top of our duties as parents and members. No one thing will always cause evil but there are a lot of things that can lead some young person that is having problems to do harmful things. The church leaders are advising that we keep them ingaged and active in good social events and to becareful about letting them get to isolated or into activities that might lead them to do harm. We can always say that such things as video games did not harm me but it’s about the kids that it does harm to that we need to watch.

  17. Zera, thanks for the note! I attended Church in Las Vegas last October and met a Pulsipher family. Actually, Brother Pulsipher, former mission president of Micronesia, was from St. George just visiting a missionary’s homecoming. If you’re related, say hi!

    I’m so glad you made it past the challenges you were facing. Thanks for sharing!

    I would say that there are many things that can contribute to various social problems. I don’t think video games are the major factor by any means for suicide or crime. But there have been some studies suggesting that the effect is not something to ignore. My main point is that parents need to be involved – and as you imply, good parenting means much more than just paying attention to the media their kids are using. Love, nurturing, personal involvement, sympathy, concern, etc., are far more important than, say, freaking out over the violence in Halo.

    I agree that Halo and many other games have a lot of good-versus-evil symbolism, but recall that when Peter got out his sword and started hacking at the enemy in his effort to defend Christianity, Christ said “Enough!” and had him put away his sword. I don’t think blasting infidels with plasma pistols and frag grenades is the way we want to invite all to come unto Christ. 🙂 Halo’s imagery might be better suited to the extremist fringes of some other religions, but I don’t think it’s quite at home with true Christianity.

  18. Is it a coincidence that two Apostles addressed the harm donbe by playing video games in this most recent Conference?

    No, they probably discussed it beforehand.

  19. Jeff,

    I don’t quite see the correlation between violence in video games and suicide. The intent to commit suicide, in my mind, runs at a deeper level than mere video games.

    It does however, reflect how sad a state families are when they allow their children to play such games. To me, issues such as neglect, lack of communication, apathy and even abuse come into mind; and violent video games are just a product of the lack of family dynamics – something that existed before-hand.

    I don’t know, this is just an opinion of course, but I think that the subject of violence in video games have closer links for violence IN suicide rather than violent games AND suicide. The reason why I say this (and this is an informed opinion), is that the children who I work alongside whose intention is to end their life usually stem from much, much deeper issues. Issues such as sexual/physical/emotional abuse that they have received from their own parents, strangers, or close family friends and relatives.

    Just my two cents’ worth…

  20. Jeff,
    My parents didn’t allow video games but my struggle with suicidal thoughts/actions came not because of that but because I never felt I would ever be ‘worthy’ enough to be what my very LDS parents and what the LDS Church expected of me. That was at least my experience as a teenager.

  21. Hi Anonymous (8:29 AM, October 19, 2007),

    Can I ask you something? What is it that you did/did not do that made you feel ‘not worthy’?

    Thank you =)


  22. NM,
    I think the connection that was tiring to be made was the isolation and closing off young people do and how parents need to keep in touch or on top of their kids lives not that the games do or always drive kids to such actions.

  23. Anonymous,

    Yes, I understood that. But, (and it’s a BIG BUT) the link is between suicide (as clearly stated in the title) AND violent games.

    My argument is that the link isn’t so much to do with violent games AND suicide, but violent games AND violence IN suicide.

    In my (limited) time of working with who families as a family therapist, I can say with certainty that violent video games are not in direct correlation with suicide. Suicides run MUCH MUCH deeper than mere video-games; don’t misunderstand, they certainly add as part of the equation. But suicides are related with low self-esteem from a result of bullying, from neglect, from physical/sexual and/or emotional abuse.

    But yes, I do understand what you are saying and I have taken what you said into consideration =)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.