From Luke's Inbox: Teen Depression and Suicide

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This article expresses why we didn't purchase Sonlight past 7th grade. I'm not sure how titles like Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, Treasure Island, Death of a Salesman, and others line up with Philippians 4:8.

Thanks for sharing the article. I had a few rambling thoughts as I read it. I hope they prove helpful here.

First, I know Sarita agrees with the article's thrust that we shouldn't dwell on depression and giving up. That's largely her point in her post about the literature Sonlight offers both in the high school levels and before.

Second, personally, I loved Brave New World and Treasure Island. For me, Brave New World -- in particular -- was a devastating picture of a hedonist society that had lost touch with it's religious roots, roots which had also lost a mooring. If I ever become a "real" filmmaker, I would love to adapt that book to the screen. My wife, on the other hand, hated the book. This points to something very important we both already know: We must choose materials that are best for our children. I'm glad you're looking for curriculum that will be more in line with what your children need. (By the by, I hated Gatsby when I read it in high school ... ugh.)

Third, it is true that suicide is a big topic with teens. Paul Graham in Why Nerds are Unpopular says, "Like other teenagers, we loved the dramatic, and suicide seemed very dramatic." Suicide is also the topic of many college films (yep, I even made one). So, yes, let's not dwell on suicide and encourage kids to think about their own and how they would do it. On the other hand, this is a very, very real reality. At a church lock-in over the weekend, I prayed with a girl who has had 12 (yes, a dozen) friends/family members commit suicide in the last year. Unpleasant, but reality. And unlike the author of the article or those interviewed, I don't think Death of a Salesman is what pushed them over the edge. The article feels like grasping for a simple answer to a very complex issue, similar to the way people blame video games every time there is a shooting (in fact, check out this brief clip about news reports and video games in David McCandless' "The beauty of data visualization" at 4:10). Emily herself says, "Thousands of students, of course, read these books and don't kill themselves, but among the depressed they may contribute to bleakness." So, yes, if your student is depressed, be careful. See point #2.

Drop of Blood

Finally, your comments reminded me of a few posts I've written. I think it's important to remember that the Easter story is violent and redemptive. Instead of meditating on how life is meaningless and pointless (a la Ecclesiastes), we can focus on the love and goodness of God in the midst of life (also in Ecclesiastes). I also feel that it's good to remember that Sonlighters don't have their "sheltered world" rocked by accounts of sin. In fact, I know my "sheltered" homeschool experience wasn't sheltered in the way most people think.

I wonder if literature isn't the real issue here. More than the stories students read, I think it's the stories we tell ourselves that have the biggest impact. Dark literature certainly isn't helping in these cases -- making misery normative -- but there are many other places students can go to find an echo chamber of their angst. We should seek to connect with our students so we are aware of the things they are thinking about and considering.

Homeschooling lets us do that.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. As for Philippians 4:8, I got to thinking about that verse while in the bathroom back in 2008, and I wrote about it on my personal blog. I know it's not directly related to the subject matter at hand, but I don't want to use a verse like that to stop us from being lights in ever darker places as God calls us onward.

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  1. Great article. I have no definitive thoughts on this, but it is something with which we struggled. Speaking of literature, we read virtually every book in six years worth of Sonlight curricula. Our children are the better for it. There were books that featured doctrinal positions and worldviews very different from our own, but that just served as a platform to talk about those issues with the kids. We did not even consider that some of the material might cause them to consider negatives that they might never have considered if they had not read the books. In hindsight, now that that kids are all the way through their bachelor's degrees, I am glad we did not consider excluding the negative stuff. In college, they got WAY worse material presented in a light to make acceptable and even good. A lot of the stuff represented as good was, in our view, abject evil. Because we DID run into subsets of that in our Sonlight reading, the kids were used to finding alternate opinions, early on from us (their parents), but later on by reading alternate, more healthy thinking about these tough subject from people like Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, and Greg Koukl.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience, Ken! I love this: "I am glad we did not consider excluding the negative stuff. In college, they got WAY worse material presented in a light to make acceptable and even good. ...Because we DID run into subsets of that in our Sonlight reading, the kids were used to finding alternate opinions..." Good stuff.


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