Shocking stories of young children committing suicide have captured recent headlines, raising concerns about what could be fueling these tragedies. While experts point to various causes, they say some key activities can help protect your children, like teaching them about God.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 through 2015, 1,309 children ages 5 to 12 took their own lives in the US.
In Alabama, family and friends are mourning the recent death of 9-year-old McKenzie Adams. Her family believes bullying at school led McKenzie to take her life, a claim disputed by school officials.
"Things you wouldn't think a 9-year-old should know," her mother Jasmine Adams told a local news station. "And before my baby could tell me some of the things they said to her, I was like where are they learning this from."
At least three other children under the age of 12 have also died by suicide this year.
In November, 9-year-old Maddie Whitsett in Birmingham took her own life, and in August, 9-year-old Jamel Myles killed himself after being bullied for saying he was gay.
Mental health experts say while bullying plays a big role, other issues can contribute to this tragic trend.
"We are seeing an increase in the rates of depression and anxiety, particularly in middle school and high school-aged children and much of that is due to the frenetic pace within which we lead our lives in the modern era," child and family psychologist Dr. Jesse Gill told CBN News. "And of course, a key contributor of that is the non-stop accessing of technology."
Dr. Gill, who specializes in attachment theory which examines how children form connections with their parents, pointed out that young children are especially vulnerable to technology.
"This is radically changing the neural pathways of the human brain, the capacity to pay attention, even the capacity to have deeper connection bonds," he explained.
And the problem continues as children get older. According to Kidsdata.org, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the age of 15 and 24.
It's an issue that some argue has been glamorized in Hollywood. The Parents Television Council has pushed Netflix to remove "13 Reasons Why" – a controversial program about a teen who committed suicide.
"We have to speak up and speak out. That's why we're trying to build a national choir on this," said PTC President Tim Winter. "The more voices to the choir the better."
Meanwhile, there are positive ways to address these issues. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that kids who attend church may be less likely to fall victim to depression and suicide.
Researchers say a regular religious routine such as attending services or prayer was associated with positive outcomes such as higher levels of happiness and volunteering.
Those findings line up with another study published in JAMA showed that kids had a lower risk of suicide if religion was important to their parents.
Dr. Gill recommends that parents limit their child's technology intake and spend meaningful one on one time with them.
"These are the things that are going to bolster and preserve us and truly help our kids to experience the love of God, the saving grace of Jesus Christ through the tangible expressions of our relationship with them," he explained.
Meanwhile, several states are beginning to require mental health education for students to help them cope with issues such as bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts.