Suicide, Responsibility, and the Teenaged Brain

Rob Tisinai

October 28th, 2010

Anti-gay activists are working hard to duck responsibility for anti-gay bullying and teen suicides. These attempts occasionally veer into sheer lunacy, as when they claim gay teens are in despair because society is too accepting of homosexuality. But there’s one dodge I find particularly offensive. From the comments on NOM’s Facebook page:

The only people responsible for the suicides are the people that comitted them.

Nobody forces anyone to take his own life; ergo, only those who commit suicide are responsible.

Each person is responsible 4 their own actions. U make believe u r gay. God did not make u gay & He does not make u commit sucicide. nor does anyone else

I don’t know if gay is always a choice, or not. But suicide is ALWAYS a choice. The ultimate cop-out.

To be fair, I don’t see this from polished anti-gay leaders. But it’s all over the comments on their web pages and blogs. It’s a strange argument coming from conservatives, who generally believe teenagers require strict discipline and are still learning to make wise decisions. They think a 15-year-old like Billy Lucas can’t handle alcohol, a car, the vote, or serving in the military, but he’ll have no trouble hearing that in the core of his being he’s an abomination, a pervert, an affront to God.

We have good reason not to trust kids to their own judgment when it comes to the big stuff. The human brain isn’t mature until it’s 23 to 25 years old. Through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists are now able to track blood flow — and therefore activity — in the brains of adults and teens as they confront information and solve problems. The science is new, but some differences are clear:

Between childhood and adulthood, the brain’s “wiring diagram” becomes richer, more complex and more efficient, especially in the brain’s frontal lobe, or front outer mantle, which is the seat of such higher order functions as learning and socialization. An important part of the frontal lobes is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is often referred to as the “CEO” or executive of the brain and is responsible for such skills as setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, controlling impulses, and allocating attention. New research suggests that the PFC is one of the last areas of the brain to fully mature…

[O]ne key MRI study found that when identifying emotions expressed on faces, teens more often activated their amygdala—the brain area that experiences fear, threat and danger— whereas adults more often activated their prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain linked more to reason and judgment—and performed better on the task. Behaviorally, the adult’s responses were more intellectual, the teens’ more from the gut. These findings and others suggest that although the plasticity and changeability of the adolescent brain are extremely well suited to meet the demands of teen life, guidance from parents and other adult institutions are essential while decision-making circuitry is being formed.

Impulse control, planning and decisionmaking are largely frontal cortex functions that are still maturing during adolescence…[O]ne reason adolescents may have difficulty inhibiting inappropriate impulses is that the circuitry needed for such control is not fully mature in early adolescence, thereby making such tasks relatively difficult.

In short, kids have less impulse control than adults, and they listen to their gut when processing emotional cues.

Adults: prefrontal cortex

Teens: amygdala

Imagine then that you’re a gay teen, and you’re watching this Jimmy Swaggart broadcast with your parents, who have demonized gays in front of you all your life. Look at Swaggart’s face as he speaks. Take in his “emotional cues.” Hear your parents murmuring “Mm hmm. That’s right.”

Imagine reacting from your gut, not your intellect. Imagine your brain has only limited impulse control.

Imagine all that — as the only life you know.

Maggie Gallagher wants to know if she has blood on her hands. Jimmy Swaggart. Peter Sprigg. Tony Perkins. Bryan Fischer. Linda Harvey. Whether you’re calling us an abomination, or phrasing it more gently (like Maggie) and merely saying we can never feel the love that a man and a woman can. You all have blood on your hands.


October 28th, 2010

Why do you think they draft and recruit 18-20 year old boys for the military? At one time men couldn’t drink, vote or marry at 18, due to their not being mature enough, but could be drafted and sent to combat, no problem.

Lindoro Almaviva

October 28th, 2010

Preach it!


October 29th, 2010


“The only people responsible for the suicides are the people that comitted them. . . .Each person is responsible 4 their own actions.” – NOM supporter

“It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” -Romans 14:21

The conclusion: don’t eat meat or drink wine, because that can cause others to fall. But breaking their arms, throwing them down a flight of stairs, punching and kicking them and urging them to kill themselves is OK, because that won’t have any effect.

Regan DuCasse

October 29th, 2010

Let’s not allow the FB comments of Clint McCance and how he reacted to Spirit Day to fade from view.
More importantly, let’s remember his particularly cruel remarks about how he’d treat his own child if they were gay.

That’s the money shot. And EXACTLY why the gay community and their supporters can point to the significance of why gay children are distinctly in need of more help and support than other children and the issues they are bullied for.

Clint McCance can be representative of thousands of fathers all over. Who’d actively assault and bully their own gay children.
Or illegally abandon them to the streets with impunity. Even if that child is under age.
The torment doesn’t begin and end at school among one’s peers.
But also from the adults one is extremely dependent on for mental and physical well being.

I can imagine Tyler Clementi having a father and mother similar to Clint McCance.
And I can think with assurance that such a thing contributed to Tyler’s suicide.
His parents have not DEFENDED him since his death.
Not a word.
Whereas the more supportive parents HAVE done so.
Something that’s very telling unto itself.

We know of children who are barely toddlers being beaten and murdered by their fathers for not presenting as butch enough for those fathers.
Which is anti gay torture at it’s most hideous extreme.

But such cruel remarks and thoughtlessness and loss of parental love that McCance espouses, could wear on the teen brain and do damage.

This is why I bring up the Clark study, and the damage to black children.
Even as far back as the early 50’s, the effects of bigotry, isolation and constant messaging as an inferior and threatening person presented in children as young as three years old.

There is no reason to think that similar attacks on gay children, wouldn’t have similar outcomes as they did on black children living under Jim Crow.
Or Jewish children in the Soviet Union.

I’m hating the idea of gay people as lab rats all over again, but perhaps gay adolescents might need this.
Because just as the Clark research was instrumental in overturning school segregation.
Perhaps something as groundbreaking regarding education could happen as well for gay kids…and their families.


October 29th, 2010

Once again, I’m reminded how much I want to punch anyone who thinks suicide is some kind of “cop out.” I’ve never understood the logic behind that. Copping out of WHAT? I suppose the victims of bullying owe it to someone (whom?) to just suck it up and continue being a punching bag?

Todd D

October 29th, 2010

Growing up gay and Mormon was difficult enough, but at the age of 21, after returning from my mission, I had an uncle in Utah who was beaten and left for dead outside a gay establishment as he was leaving. My 140 lb uncle was left naked with punctured lungs and a crushed eye socket in a gravel pit by two football players. He survived due to hypothermia setting in and I still remember my family discussing the incident and saying, “well he shouldn’t have been there”. I had known I was gay since Jr. High at least, and knew I could not come out to a family who believed gay people deserved this because of who they are. While I did not commit suicide, I almost did while attending BYU and despairing that I would never be accepted or “normal”. That incident left a huge impression and propelled me deeper into the closet for many years…


October 29th, 2010

Thanks for a beautifully reasoned (and solidly scientific) post.


October 29th, 2010

Even Falwell had the integrity to back off his rhetoric when Matthew Shepard Was beaten and left to die.

For at time, at least, he could make the right connections.


November 1st, 2010

The thing I do personally to counter-act all the hate is to serve at the gay community center, with Whitman-Walker Clinic, and give generously to SMYAL to help those kids who have been thrown out and thrown away by their parents. Voting hasn’t worked, for me or for them.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.