Teen Suicide: Is Death Education a Cause? Part 2

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
06/07/2012
       
Teen Suicide: Is Death Education a Cause? Part 2

 Death educators are quite aware that they are dealing with a highly charged, taboo subject that many students can’t handle. But they are more concerned with making death education more “effective” than investigating the possibility that death education — effective or ineffective — is a contributing cause of teen suicide. The statistics alone should elicit some curiosity and interest, if not alarm. In 1960 there were about 1,000 teenage suicides; in 1984 about 5,000.

Death educators are quite aware that they are dealing with a highly charged, taboo subject that many children can’t handle. But that hasn’t stopped some teachers from introducing the subject in kindergarten. The January 1989 issue of Young Children carried an article by kindergarten teacher Sue Spayth Riley about her class’s trip to a cemetery.

After a discussion about burials and cremation, one little girl says, “If I die I don’t know whether I want to be put under the ground or not. I want to think about that some more.” A little boy says, “When I die I’m not going to be buried; I’m going to be flamed.”

The cemetery visits deeply impress the children as can be seen by the bizarre games they invent back at school. Ms. Riley writes:

Dramatic play after the trip deepens and extends the experience. On the playground the morning after this year’s pilgrimage, I watched as several children in the sandbox improvised three gravestones by propping plastic frying pans vertically in the sand. The children then lay down in front of their headstones. When another child walked by, one of those in the sandbox called out, “Hey, this is a graveyard, you want to be dead?” Another gravestone was erected, and a child began sprinkling sand on the others. There ensued much arranging and rearranging of children and markers.

Another youngster built a large rectangular block building — a child’s version of a mausoleum — with enough room for a child, hunched up, to get inside. Ms. Riley writes:

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