Faced with bleak statistics about the prevalence of at-risk behavior within D.C. middle schools, officials are citing social media and calling for better teacher training.

“They’re exposed to the Internet, to Facebook. They’re exposed to so many more things than we were,” D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley said at a D.C. Council hearing Tuesday. “Things we didn’t think about until well in our adult years.”

Of 4,000 eighth-graders, 10 percent have tried to commit suicide, according to Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s Youth Behavior Surveillance Survey. This is double the national average.

An increased online presence and accessibility to stories from other at-risk teens could be contributing to the dismal numbers. According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, nearly three-quarters of teens use social networks, and 36 percent say they go online several times a day. A March study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics cited a new phenomenon in teens and adults attributed to over-usage called “Facebook Depression.” The report said that social media becomes a risk to adolescents “more often than most adults realize.”

More information about D.C. students from Bill Turque’s Tuesday story:

18.4 percent of sixth-graders have missed school in the past year because they felt unsafe either at school or on the way to or from school.

14.2 percent of middle-schoolers have had a drink of alcohol in the past 30 days.

Two of every five ninth-graders repeat the grade.

28.2 percent of eighth-graders have had sexual intercourse.


First things first: Anyone with suicidal thoughts is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

For parents: What are the warning signs?

If your teenager has been depressed,  the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to look for warning signs of potential suicidal thoughts, including:

• A dramatic shift in his or her personality

• Trouble with a significant other or difficulty getting along with friends

• A drop in the quality of schoolwork

• A sudden rebellious attitude

• Drug or alcohol abuse

• Running away from home

• Talking about suicide, even in jest.

• Previous suicide attempts

For parents: If you suspect your child has suicidal thoughts

Do not remain silent, according to the pediatrics organization. Instead, parents are instructed to:

• Ask your child about it, and don’t hesitate to use the word “suicide.” Saying the word can help teens realize that you heard their cries for help.

• Reassure your child of your love.

• Ask about how your child is feeling and listen without getting angry.

• Remove all lethal weapons from your home.

• Seek help from a doctor or therapist.

For teens: If you’re worried about a friend

The National Association of School Psychologists advises concerned teens to:

• Never make a deal to keep a friend’s suicidal plans a secret.

• Tell a trusted adult of a friend’s suicidal thoughts. Don’t be afraid that a parent or school counselor won’t take you seriously.

• Ask if your school has a crisis team. If you school doesn’t have one, talk with your student council or teachers about starting one.

For teens: If you’ve already attempted suicide

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline advises:

• Develop a safety plan along with your doctor or therapist. To reduce the likelihood of subsequent suicide attempts, this plan may include: signs that may signal the return of suicidal thoughts and how to handle them; when to seek help; and contact information for your therapist or another trusted adult.

• Build a support system. You’ll need at least one ally you trust and can confide in. Allies might include your family, clergy members or close friends.  

• Your environment shouldn’t include the means to hurt yourself, like a large supply of medicine, sharp objects or other dangerous items.

• Pinpoint what prompts suicidal thoughts  -- for instance, the anniversary of a troubling event -- and plan ahead so you can lessen the effects of them on your daily life.

For families: If your loved one has attempted suicide

The suicide prevention lifeline’s tips for family members include:

• Be aware of what triggers your loved one’s suicidal thoughts.

• Encourage honest communication within your family.

• Remove high-risk objects from your home, such as guns or large amounts of medicine.