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Dalton School Suicide: The Aftermath

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In a cutthroat world of private education, is teen suicide that uncommon?

ny school where teen suicide occurred

Yesterday, we told you about Theodore (Teddy) Graubard, a popular male student at the prestigious Dalton School on New York City's Upper East Side. He committed suicide by jumping from an 11th floor building on school grounds in front of a group of fourth graders, who reportedly ran from the body.

Theodore had apparently won academic awards and was involved in school sports and activities. He had 512 Facebook friends.

The school and its surrounding community are in complete shock. And so far, the public has no information about Theodore's parents.

Dalton is one of the most prestigious private schools in the United States -- like a real-life Gossip Girl. Tuition for the 2008-2009 academic year is $33,100.

The New York City private school system is a competitive cutthroat world, but why would a boy who seemingly had everything take his own life? We went to Gilda Carle, Ph.D., an expert in teen self-esteem and dating, for answers.

"The problem with this case is that we know so little about it," says Carle. "We barely know anything about this student, much less his family life, or the reasons he ended his life. Therefore it's hard to speculate why this happened."

"One very unfortunate aspect of this case is that small children witnessed the suicide," says Carle. "It's traumatic enough for adults to deal with this, but almost impossible for small children to comprehend--and the visuals of what they saw will stay with them forever."

What role did his school environment play? "Because we didn't know this boy, it's hard to speculate, however attending a competitive prep school would be pressure for anyone. And since teenagers experience lots of hormonal changes, any problem they have can be magnified."

"The problem could range from being rejected by a girl, to a failing grade on a test, to a change in medication, to feeling impulsive, to experiencing depression -- we may never know. What we do know for sure is that Teddy saw no other way out. He felt hopeless."

How do parents explain suicide to children and, most importantly, help them move on unscathed?

"The kids will always be scarred by what they experienced," says Carle. "There is no avoiding that. And although the school is reportedly providing counseling, parents should take action immediately by talking to their kids."

"It may be tempting to assign a concrete reason for suicide in order to make sense of what happened, but don't," says Carle. "You'll teach your kids that taking your life is a coping mechanism. And don't lie and say there was an 'accident.' Once they find out the truth -- and they will -- they'll have a tough time trusting you in the future."

How explicit should parents be when it comes to this topic?

"Don't offer up the gory details, or any other information kids aren't ready to hear," she adds. "You can let them know that no one really understands why people do this, but suicide is not the answer."

The bottom line: "Tell your kids to come to you with any problems or if they feel hopeless or alone. And don't be afraid to probe if you feel your child is depressed. Then let them know that you will always be there to help them solve their problems."

In the coming weeks, we'll hopefully have more answers to this tragic story, but for now, we can only keep Teddy's family in our thoughts.

next: Divorce: Is it the Kids' Fault?
29 comments so far | Post a comment now
6boroughs February 21, 2009, 3:55 PM

Please don’t make Gossip Girl comments, you know next to nothing about the school and all it does is frustrate people.

whitefang February 22, 2009, 12:31 AM

Man, you’re so touchy bout this Gossip Girl comment huh? whoever wrote this is JUST trying to show what Upper East Side looks like OK?? for those who doesn’t know.

Adah Askew February 23, 2009, 6:27 PM

I thought I’d send this to you in case you haven’t heard about this tragedy. The student fell in front of the school where a large group of kids, mostly 4th graders, were playing. Sounds like he was a bright and active in many good organizations and had gone to Dalton for many years so thought maybe you had known him. Sorry for bad news but thought you’d want to know.

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