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Sadness, death emerge among the common thoughts of children and teens

A few days ago, I was exiting a local store when two elementary school students, clearly brother and sister, where walking right there and talking to each other. For a few seconds, I heard their conversation before they just walked away.

“I am sad”, said the boy, probably around 10.

“Is that sadness like when somebody does or sadness because something bad is about to happen?”, asked his sister, perhaps only a couple of years older than her brother.

After listening to that conversation, I had to stop for a few minutes and reflect about the question and the answer. Initially, it made no sense to me. Only later, after thinking for a while, I was able to continue with my activities.

I asked myself several times in what context a conversation between two young siblings walking home after school can justifiably focus on sadness, and, even more worrisome, on a recent death or an imminent tragedy.  

The face of the boy, who all the time looked down to the floor, and the tone of voice of the conversation revealed the boy and his sister were having a serious conversation. No laughs. Not even a smile. The conversation was not the prelude to a joke and I didn’t detect any kind of exaggeration in the question asked by the sister.

I must say than when the boy said “I am sad” I immediately thought he had problems at school, perhaps of low grade at a test, or a discipline issue. O perhaps one of his friends move away and he/she is no longer attending that school.

However, when the sister connected what he brother said to a question about death and tragedy, it was clear that the sadness of the boy was unrelated to any school issue, but a kind of existential sadness. He felt his own being was being threatened. Her sister knew and sensed what he was talking about.

What can cause a young boy and a young girl from an elementary school in Colorado, United States, to feel sad because their own being is in danger?

Sad to say, there is a long list of possible causes, from school shootings to the increasing impact of the opioid epidemic, to the uncertainty about employment opportunities, because, regardless how well the economy is doing, almost half of the people in the country can’t make ends meet or are very close to be in that situation.

That may have been the case, but I don’t think the boy was thinking about shootings, opioids, or economy, but about something deeper, more personal, and even more visceral, as his sister understood. Something closer to death than to life.

That was extremely worrisome, because in Colorado suicide, not car accidents, is the main cause of death among children and teenagers. And a growing number of children in this state now decide to take their own lives, even children as young as 6.

My goodness! What kind of horrible social monstrosity have we created?

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