Suicide, especially teen suicide, is a very touchy subject. Very few people have not been affected by suicide, either by knowing someone who committed suicide or else knowing someone who has attempted suicide. Opinions are all across the board concerning suicide, suicide prevention and the reasons people commit suicide. But I’m not going to look at any of that, just suicide and The Hunger Games series.
Since I did not read The Hunger Games series I can’t tell you how much of a focus the books gave to the suicide concepts. It could have been one or two sentences or whole chapters. But that really is beside the point. There are several instances in the series where suicide is broached.
~ Katniss and Peeta threaten to commit suicide and pretend to eat poisonous berries at the end of the competition when the rule is changed back to only one survivor.
“Without a victor, the whole thing would blow up in the Gamemakers’ faces. They’d have failed the Capitol. Might possibly even be executed, slowly and painfully while the cameras broadcast it to every screen in the country.
If Peeta and I were both to die, or they thought we were …”
~ Foxface eats the poisonous berries and dies. Whether suicide or not is debatable.
~ Seneca is set in a room with poison berries on the table and is pushed to end it all. (This appears to be in the movie and not necessarily the book.)
~ Katniss and Peeta carry poisonous berries in hopes of an opportunity to use them on Cato.
What do stories and books like The Hunger Games teach our children when they include such tidbits of suicide?
1) It teaches our children that they can play around the edges of suicide. They can have a means available, easily available even. They can contemplate suicide. Many might be surprised at how often a teen may play around the edges of suicide and find they get to a point of no return. There is a high that can be achieved just before the point of suicide but crossing that line can mean death. Things like inhaling fumes, choking or even bleeding can produce a euphoric high but many, many times teens find they have gone too far leading to serious illness or death.
2) It propagates the idea that man is in control of his destiny. In the mind of a suicidal person they are in control, God is not Sovereign. While what a man thinks about God’s Sovereignty doesn’t negate God’s Sovereignty by any means, sometimes the Lord does turn man over to his own vain lusts and allow them to reap what they desire.
3) Suicidal manipulation is encouraged. Unless you’ve ever experienced this it might not mean much to you. However, I did growing up and believe me it isn’t pleasant. Suicidal manipulators are those who use the ultimate threat (in their mind’s eye) of suicide to get their way. Out of control teens can easily learn to use threats of suicide in order to manipulate weak parents into giving into their every demand. Adults can manipulate others by threatening to ‘end it all’. What then happens is everyone walks around on eggshells fearing to upset another person’s ‘delicate balance’ in life.
4) Suicide is often used as a means to hurt others. I remember my mom telling of a teen when she was a teen who committed suicide. Why? Because the teen did not get her way in some minor disagreement with her parents. So the teen stormed out and said “I’ll show you!” and killed herself. She hurt her parents by her suicide in order to punish them.
5) Suicide belies the fact that God says He will never give us more than we can bear.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
6) The Werther Effect means there may be some teens who seek to copy the suicide ideas in The Hunger Games. What is the Werther Effect?
One of the earliest known associations between the media and suicide arose from Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). Goethe’s novel was published in 1774 and not long after young men began to mimic the character Werther by dressing in yellow pants and blue jackets. The new fashion trend seemed to be entertaining to the public. A new trend also emerged from the book causing it to be banned in numerous areas. In the novel, Werther commits suicide with a pistol after he fails to get the girl he desires. Many men replicated this trend in an act of hopelessness. In that work the hero shoots himself after an ill-fated love, and shortly after its publication there were many reports of young men using the same method to commit suicide. This resulted in a ban of the book in several places. Hence the term “Werther effect”, used in the technical literature to designate copycat suicides. The term was coined by researcher David Phillips in 1974. Two centuries after Goethe’s novel was published David Phillips confirmed imitative suicides as the “Werther effect.” Reports in 1985 and 1989 by Phillips and his colleagues found that suicides and other accidents seem to incline after a well publicized suicide. Copycat suicide is mostly blamed on the media. “Hearing about a suicide seems to make those who are vulnerable feel they have permission to do it,” Dr. Phillips said. He cited studies that showed that people were more likely to engage in dangerous deviant behavior, such as drug taking, if someone else had set the example first.
The Werther Effect reveals that the popular idea of writing and exposing children and teens to tough and serious concepts like suicide in their books in order to aid them in handling the issues doesn’t not always work and may actually cause the issue they are trying to avoid.
Why would we want to expose our children to such?