Deep shaft miners used to take tiny song birds to work—probably still do in some places. The reason for this has less to do with the sweet sound of chirping than the fact that song birds are delicate; a fact easily confirmed by any pet owner who’s found her feathered friend face down on the newsprint. Turns out this domestic weakness is an asset in deep shaft mining. The little fellas have tiny respiratory systems and remarkable but equally tiny brains. Said plain: toxic gases are sometimes released in deep mines—gases that kill people. Song birds keel over long before the fumes reach levels deadly to humans. So the birds are an early-warning system: If the singing stops, everyone heads for the surface.
Adolescents are often the first to succumb to toxic social conditions.[iii]
Look around. It’s not hard to see that for some teenagers, the song is over.
Much has been made of the rate of adolescent suicide. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, reported suicides among 15 to 19 year-old Americans rose from 2.7 per 100,000 in 1950 to more than 11 per 100,000 in 1988. What’s been less well covered is the gradual (sometimes unsteady) decline back to a rate of 7.5 per 100,000 in 2010.[iv]In real world numbers, that was 1659 American kids who died at their own hands in 2010.
Teen suicides don’t happen in a vacuum. For perspective, it’s worth noting that the suicide rate among the parents of teenagers is much higher—more than double the teenage rate in 2010.[v] Who knows when or if we’ll return to the levels reported in 1950...
— from Raising Adults
iii Granting that young children are more vulnerable to disease, poverty and armed conflict than the rest of us, adolescents are often the first drawn into the causes of disease, poverty and armed conflict.
iv National Center for Health Statistics: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2011/039.pdf