I’m horrified. I’m sad. I’m upset. I’m grieving. I’m concerned. I’m full of questions. I’m angry. I’m all these things and more on the heels of the death of a 14 year old boy. On Friday we received the news via text. Our son’s best friend had died. He killed himself. At 14. With his entire life ahead of him.

His mother sent us a short text, she couldn’t speak she said, she was too distraught.

The impact on our family was immediate and harsh. My wife deeply upset, both of us confronted with the task of having to tell our son who is also 14 knowing this would deeply hurt him.

We are in shock. This was no casual acquaintance. This was a kid we had known since he was 11. I won’t use his real name, but I’ll call him Toby for purposes of this article. This was a great kid, he was smart, he was funny, he was outgoing. The boys spent lots of time together. In fact Toby had just stayed over for 4 days during the recent school break. We knew this kid well. But perhaps not well enough.

No 14 year old should feel so distraught to take their own life. No 14 year old should have to receive the news that their best friend has taken their own life.

It was a difficult conversation. Denial, anger, grief, despair, shock, the need for answers when there are few. After initial shock and disbelief our son broke down in tears. He misses his friend deeply. He wants answers.

How the hell could this have happened? What would drive a jovial, seemingly happy 14 year old to kill himself?

I saw no signs. My wife didn’t see any signs. Our son didn’t see any signs. His parents and siblings didn’t see any signs.

The next day our son wanted to stop by and see the parents to pay respect. It was a difficult decision to make. We had heard nothing since the initial text. The family was obviously distraught, they couldn’t speak about it the text had said.

To go would be to impose on a family at a time in utter grief. But to go would be to pay respect, to offer comfort. To go would be to get a glimpse of answers to reconcile, to cope, to understand.

It was a tough decision, but we decided to go and let our son knock on the door with flowers. The parents opened the door, they let us in, we all hugged. The atmosphere was dreadful, profound sadness.

I saw a broken father, I saw a devastated mother, I saw a destroyed family. A total tragedy. Still they welcomed us into their home, we offered what comfort we could, which was very little. What do you tell parents that just lost their child? How do you comfort them? Nothing will ever make them whole again. The guilt. The profound pain and sadness. The lack of answers, what prompted it. How could it have been prevented? How could he have been saved? But also how useless to ask these questions. The answers won’t bring their son back.

They had no warning. He killed himself while they were in the house. They found him, the ambulance came, they tried to revive him, it was too late. The trauma of finding your child like this, I can’t even fathom.

They are besides themselves. They have no answers. There were no signs.

But it turns out there were and they are starting to be found in the cesspool we call social media.

Our son contacted his friends seeking answers. Nobody knew anything, except two people. Two teenage girls. He had confided some things to them. But they didn’t tell anybody. A flash sense of discretion? Not old enough yet themselves to have the maturity to make that judgment? I can’t say, I can’t judge, they are also very young.

I can’t get into specifics as there is an ongoing police investigation and facts are still coming out, and frankly the facts don’t matter for now. What matters is that a young 14 year old boy became so filled with despair, fear, anger and God knows what else that he felt compelled to take his own life for issues that would not have mattered 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

Which brings me to two larger points I can draw from all this at this stage:

First off, and I’m speaking as a parent to other parents: We have no clue what these kids are up to on social media. Snapchat and Instagram, direct messages, group chats it’s a non stop pressure cooker of kids hyping each other up, creating drama, seeking attention, popularity or whatever. It’s a world of likes, retweets, popularity seeking, attention seeking, attention getting and reality gets warped in the process. Priorities lost, the online world becomes the dominant world that shapes perceived reality.

Kids are under pressure, their attention constantly drawn to the 24/7 social media cycle. It distracts, it emotionally warps reality, it creates drama where none is needed.

When I was in school I had my share of occasional challenges with other local kids. But at least I didn’t have to deal with the idiots when I went home after school. But these days it doesn’t stop when kids leave school for the day. Oh no, after school is when the real fun just begins, all afternoon, evenings, weekends, it’s non stop.

No wonder it becomes life consuming, no wonder it warps perceptions, no wonder it becomes all influencing and yes no wonder it becomes too much for some. And hence we now see a frightening trend. Google ‘rising teenage suicide’ and the results flood in.

Invariably you see reports that teenage suicide rates have increased dramatically over the past decade.

Well, it’s not hard to miss the obvious link:

The advent of social media. And this is where it’s all happening.
The first generation of children growing up on the internet, with social media in many cases their predominant form of communication and changing the rules of social interaction as we speak. Who knows what that does to their young minds.

Oh it’s bad enough seeing some adults turn into hateful ignorant idiots on social media. I’ve had my share. But I’m a grown man, I’m a big boy, I can handle it.

But tragically too many teens can’t.

And they are lost. Their pain unnoticed. The despair not recognized. Only until it is too late.

Don’t let it happen to you and to your child. We all bear responsibility. The way we conduct ourselves on social media. We need to be a good example, we need to teach, but we also need to be aware. We need to trust but verify. Newflash: Kids will lie even to their best friends.

As it turns out Toby’s girlfriend sensed something was off. The day before he died she contacted our son on Snapchat. She asked him: Do you sense anything wrong with Toby, he’s been acting strange. Our son hadn’t noticed anything, but asked Toby directly on Instagram. He said everything was fine. It wasn’t. This was the last time they messaged each other. Toby died the next day.

I’m horrified about the pain and anguish that his death has caused to his family, to our family and to all his young friends.

I’m sad about the life he will never get to experience, the many years still ahead of him, to fall in love, to develop, to grow, to start a family.

I’m also angry. I’m angry that this child was inflicted with so much pain and stress that he felt it necessary to take his own life.

All for what?

And yes, I’m also extremely frustrated. 4 days he spent at our home in November. I didn’t notice a thing even though we now know the pain was present for months in the social media trail. None of us picked up on anything.

Nobody who could’ve intervened noticed. Not us, not his parents, not the school, not most of his friends. Society failed this promising young boy.

Kids need our guidance, they also need our supervision and our example. And if the adults act like jerks on social media why should we expect kids to act any better?

I’m no expert on psychology, I’m just a parent that sees what these kids are exposed to and I see the tragedy that can come as a result. All I can say is pay attention, don’t assume anything, if access to social media is provided be sure you have access and monitor the conversations and messages. Nobody saw the signs because nobody was looking in the place where they were hiding. On social media. Above all make sure your child knows and feels comfortable to come to you when in distress, even when it is hard, especially when it is hard.

And therein lies perhaps the most disturbing message of this particular tragedy: Just because your child is at home does not mean your child is safe.

Updated April 18, 2021

It’s been a year and a half since Toby’s death & the grief remains & answers never came. Our son is still struggling with what happened. He wrote & recored this song for his best friend a few weeks after his death when he was 14 himself. It’s about his imagined life & his future self looking back at his life. He released it today on what would’ve been his friend’s 16th birthday.

Categories: Opinion

56 replies »

  1. My condolences for the loss of this young person, and the resulting pain of the family and yours. It is a tragedy.

  2. Hello Sven,
    I am compelled to send you a comment on the very sad event and such a sad day to hear this news about your sons’ friend. Your thoughts into what maybe the cause of this tragedy is insightful
    I am a grown man and feel like crying about this not even knowing who this kid is. You painted enough of a picture to lead me to believe he has wonderful potential if, if only somehow someone
    could have seen his pain and frustrations. My sincere condolences to his family and you and your family having to struggle with the consequence.
    Enjoy reading your posts and good sense comments about economic issues. I can also see you are a great thinking man with a loving heart for others.
    Thanks for sharing this terrible tragedy with your followers.

  3. Kids need to accept themselves as they are and not accept anything more from society, expectations or whatever. Let them learn from their mistakes and it is okay to learn from mistakes and it is okay to do so!

  4. Very sorry to hear the tragedy. I have teenage kids and soon to become teenage ones. This is a wake up call to pay close attention to them at all times. The darkness will go away eventually, I wish your family and your friend’s family the best during this tough times.

    • The dark side is social media is only now coming to light.
      Parents need to be so vigilant and always verifying. There is no such thing as “it can’t be” .If you can think it is is possible . Your story tore my heart out.

    • No, the darkness never goes away and time does not heal wounds: It simply affords more time to live with the new normal; but the longing for a lost one, never diminishes.

  5. So sorry for your loss Sven. Thoughts and prayers to your family and there’s. I’m convinced that the internet is both the best thing that ever happened to society, and the worst thing that ever happened to society…

  6. My son is 17 and daughter 12. I just shared your story with them. We talked about kids getting bullied via social media and tried to reflect on what to do if they ever felt that could be happening to them or a friend.

    The scary part is how it can be hidden in plain site. I can only hope they remain aware, avoid falling into a bad situation, and are supported enough to survive.

    My condolences to you and your son’s friend’s family. Tragic.

  7. Sorry for the heartache for all involved. Nothing on earth could be worse for a parent to suffer.
    Sadly this kind of tragedy is happening all over the world.
    Any wonder the Hi tech exec’s don’t let there young kids have screen time.
    Those that created it no exactly the dangers of it.
    Very Sad

  8. Life can bring such unexpected heart ache. It’s plain to see that your heart is broken. Not wanting to appear insensitive at such a moment, but for you, or for any readers that are interested please email me for a PDF file on a little booklet entitled “COMFORT” and I will forward it to any that request it. It offers an explanation and a reasoned hope of a resurrection for ALL that have ever lived and died. There actually is a promised hope for Toby and for every single one of us! You may want to check this out and even if you don’t want to read it right now, you can keep it to read a bit later.
    Please accept our deepest, heartfelt sympathy over this unspeakable loss.

    (please be sure to include an email that I can send it to)

  9. Thanks for sharing this news. So sorry for the loss. I will share this story with my 19 year old daughter. Very hard to understand, only questions.

  10. Dear Sven, thank you for sharing so truthfully and sincerely. This is more than an economics blog, we appreciate you and feel for your family and the other precious family during this time. I echo your frustration at such a irreversible ‘solution’ to what was realistically a very temporary, relatively unimportant problem. I am so very, very sorry for all concerned. Earnest prayers for peace and healing, Greg

  11. Thank you for sharing this news. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with your’s and Toby’s family. You are right Sven, in our day, when we got home, the bullies stayed outside, but in today’s world, they have an entry through social media – a direct line into our children’s rooms. I’m going upstairs now to share this story with my 13 year old daughter. My deepest condolences.

  12. Sven, I’m so sorry for Toby’s family’s loss and had a similar experience to being a friend of a Toby. So has my wife actually. It is tragic and devastating, I found someone to talk to, a professional which really helped. I was 11 at the time and the toby I dealt with was 16, but we still hung out nearly monthly as our parents were good friends.
    Remembrance of the good and positive, once the root is found and discussed is the most important. Also attempting to understand that we cannot control these things, but like Su’s Art of War, we work to control our environment to eliminate the possibilities of unfavorable outcomes.
    As parents, your call to action of responsibility is immensely important and I applaud your efforts.
    Best wishes, and I hope, pray, and have faith as a society we can improve to reduce these tragedies rather than magnify them.
    It’s also important to recognize all of this is new… and even Zuckerbergs understanding is limited on all of the ramifications. Fortunately these very tools will give us the communication leverage we need to solve the problems they create as we become better at incorporate them into healthy things like family meals and confidential discourse and trust.
    Once again my greatest condolences! Thank you for what you do and have done!

  13. Heartbreaking. Thank you, sir. I will share this story with others in the hope of saving someone. May God bless the young man’s soul and grant it eternal peace. May He also bless and comfort the young man’s family and friends. I ask these things in the name of Jesus, your Son and my Savior.

  14. Sven, I am so sorry for your loss. It’s heartbreaking to hear about such a senseless tragedy. I, too, have a 14yo son, and he was recently subjected to bullying at his boarding school. While it’s no longer feasible to monitor his social media interactions (although the bullying took place exclusively IRL), my son called and told me about it. And we talked about it several times. He confronted the bully and it has stopped, but I think what was key is that my son felt safe coming to me to talk about it. If you are the parent of a teen, talk to your kid. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. Even if it annoys them. Let them know you are there for them. And listen to them, no matter how trivial the matter, because you never know when what they have to say could be a matter of life or death.

  15. Hi Sven,
    So very sorry for the loss of your son’s friend. My deepest sympathies.

    The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

  16. This is so tragic, prayers for you and your son’s friend’s family. Agree 100% with your social media analysis.

  17. So sorry to hear, so heartbreaking…condolences to his family and all his friends 😢
    As a mother to a 15 year old, and although i think i have a good and open relashionship with him, makes me cringe to read your post…

  18. I am very saddened by this tragedy. I have two boys close to Toby’s age and if this happened to either of them I would be devastated. My heart goes out to his mom and dad.

  19. i know how it is, but i had just a bit more luck when i was 15. this was a time without facebook or twitter.
    my condolences to the family.

  20. My condolences for your son’s friend. Sadly, a victim of the evils in our ‘advanced’ society. May the Lord comfort his soul.

  21. Thank you for sharing. Please let me offer my condolences. As a parent of a clinically depressed teenager, I can tell you that the signs in teens can be subtle and difficult to discern. Father to father, I can also tell you that the suicide of a close teenage friend can spark thoughts of suicide in your own child that would been unthinkable before. Love your kids and be vigilant.

  22. THANK YOU FOR SHARING! Once again you prove to be more and more human and proving more then the stock market analysis.

    Sharing this story isn’t easy and yet you should be aware that it has had an instant impact on my life.

  23. Sven, I am very sorry to hear this. Please accept my condolences. I am praying for the family…

    I had a similar experience as your son when I was around 14 a friend committed suicide. He wasn’t a close friend, we just lived in the same high raise and occasionally played soccer together with other boys. He was a very nice boy. I barely knew him but I was extremely shocked for a very long time when I heard the news. So it must be even harder for your son! I cannot even imagine what he is going through – teenagers are many times more sensitive than adults.
    What can you say to your son in this situation? I did not believe in God back then so I believe that my pain was much stronger back then because of all the finality and utter despair. Now I believe in Jesus Christ, now I know for a fact that although it is still very hard to go through this kind of events now there is hope. And it makes a huge difference.
    About answers: I agree that Social Media plays a big role but in my opinion chemicals and GMOs in the food also play a big role. We have epidemic of multiple diseases not just suicides since GMOs started to be used in mass in food production (middle 1990): diabetes, liver diseases, heart diseases, cancer, allergies, food processing in general. Especially the new generation is very sick. I believe the reason is chemicals and GMOs damage nervous systems, especially in children and especially in new born while they are yet in mother’s womb. Since children’s nervous system is damaged among other things they are less capable to control emotions and mind in general. This is my opinion but tremendous growth rate of multiple horrible diseases and suicides to epidemic levels since middle of 1990 is a fact.

  24. Sven, my daughters best friend learned her sister dissed same yesterday. Shockingly sad, and unbelievably alarming as a parent of 4. Well done on your article. But I have no answers. Joe

  25. Sven, can you please share our closed FaceBook group with the mom and she can contact us when she’s ready ~ if ever. We are the moms left behind when one of our precious children commits suicide. We have all lost children to this tragedy, and we all understand what she’s going through and want to be there to offer support and a compassionate ear when needed.
    FaceIt Moms



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