After 30 years, why write a 2nd edition of Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide (Atheneum/Avon)? Hasn’t the subject been thoroughly covered? Aren’t the library shelves loaded with other books on the subject? Aren’t online book sites like Amazon brimming with competing titles?
The answer is “No,” “No,” and “No.”
Reason #1: Sure, there are many other books about teen suicide that have been written in the past three decades. But there is always room for more. After a dip in the number of teens taking their own lives, a 2015 National Center for Health Statistics study reported that the suicide rate among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 reached a 40-year high. Between 2007 and 2015, the suicide rate for those girls doubled. For young males, there was a 31 percent increase. Those statistics alone are reasons for writing and publishing a 2nd edition.
Reason #2: Home computers were laughably primitive when I wrote the 1st edition of Dead Serious. Not until the mid-1980s when the first word processor was introduced did regular folks begin to see the real benefits of owning a home computer. For most kids, it was the availability of games—albeit mere precursors of today’s games—that was the main attraction. The World Wide Web wouldn’t be available until 1989. The term “surfing the net” didn’t hit our lexicon until 1992. Back in 1987, people actually communicated by making a phone call or writing a letter. Unlike today where so much is done electronically (and, in some cases, anonymously), kids at the end of the 1980s talked face-to-face. Their social skills were well honed. They could “read” cues like facial expressions, body gestures, and tone of voice, whereas today’s teens are often stymied when they put down their electronic devises.
Reason #3: There were no cell phones. No texting. No social media. A site like Facebook didn’t launch until 2004. Before then, problems like bullying were confined to school or to the neighborhood. Home was a safe zone. Bullying stopped at the front door. Once inside, victims didn’t have to worry about nasty text messages, Facebook postings, Instagram photos, tweets on Twitter—the list goes on. (Sure, teens today can shut down all social media and turn off their cell phones. Fat chance!)
Reason #4: Back in 1987, gay teens (and adults) were in the proverbial “closet.” Talk about gender and sexual identity in schools—everywhere, for that matter—was too risky. It was illegal and, in some states, a crime to marry someone of the same sex. In 1996, President Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. And nowhere on TV or in the movies could LGBTQ teens (Acronyms that have been expanding more recently) see images of themselves. There were no role models. They had to go it alone.
Reason #5: As with issues of gender and sexuality, talking about sexual abuse, self-harming and suicide was taboo. Only now, are we seeing a groundswell of women who are sharing their stories of sexual abuse. And with a TV series like “13 Reasons Why” (a series with which I have a lot of problems,) the topic of teen suicide is, some would say, encouraging a national discussion. But the stigma that hovers over suicide has not abated. Many suicides are officially ruled as “accidents.”
So, why did I write a 2nd edition of Dead Serious (with a new subtitle: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide)? Let me count the ways.