My 12-year-old son shared the news with me about a local high school boy who shot himself. An all-American boy, handsome and athletic, a football star with deep brown eyes and a smile that looked like he owned the world. Reagan Beene was a 14-year-old boy who supposedly killed himself in his bedroom after being caught by the police for underage drinking and throwing a party while his parents were away. A blunder of youth followed by a life-changing decision to end it all. Forever punishing those around him.
No family is immune. So much of this boy’s story makes me reflect on my children. The parallels between his family and mine are too much to ignore. He was one of four children, two boys and two girls, just like my family. He played football, attracted girls, and, on the exterior, looked to have it all. He’s how I envision my own son who’s only a few grades behind him. I thought about the boy’s sisters who lost a brother and the sister who found him. Their unimaginable sadness the same as if my girls had lost their brother. As a parent, I feel this family’s grief. I hurt for them and they don’t even know me.
As word spread about the boy’s suicide, the comments on social media poured in on Twitter and Instagram, with hashtags of remembrance. There were those people expressing condolences, best friends and acquaintances, and others innocently asking what happened, never expecting suicide or his method as the cause of such tragic news. There were the few etiquette police telling people to delete comments asking how the boy died as if it were insensitive to write. The insensitive part was what this boy did to his family and friends, over an issue seeming monumental in youth and insignificant in time. A life that wasn’t yet lived enough to have it all in perspective.
This was my warning. I wonder if I’d notice the signs of impending suicide in my children. Am I building a strong foundation, communicating enough, and striking the right balance between disciplinarian and confidant to ward off suicidal thoughts in the turbulent teen years ahead? Are my expectations fair? There’s no road map in parenting. All I can do is learn from this boy’s short life.
Some parents hide the truth of their hell-raising days. I tell it like it is and I want teens to hear my story. It wasn't that long ago that I was in high school, graduating in the mid-nineties. I went to parties; threw parties; smoked pot; and got caught by the police. I had two minor possessions and was punished by the legal system. Guess what? Albeit serious offenses, it wasn't the end of the world. I was forced to attend substance abuse seminars and AA meetings. The part that punished me the most was that I disappointed myself and my parents. That might have weighed most heavily in the heart and mind of a boy who thought suicide was his only way out.
Reagan Beene is not the first person to drink underage. Most everyone does. Whatever consequence comes with that is never worth ending your life. I know. I bet if he had a do-over, he'd rather have more years on earth than in heaven. But it's too late. I want every teen to know that the mistakes you're ashamed of now are probably some of the same ones your parents made. Don't let the guilt drive you to end your life.
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