Commonwealth Education Organization Editorial in the state of Pennsylvania:
Much has been written about the use of TeenScreen in 9th and 10th grade as a tool for identifying potential suicide victims. A firestorm of objections has come from a cross-section of parents, political, educational, and health professional organizations – from Patch Adams to Phyllis Schlafly.
However, there is a disturbing aspect about the TeenScreen survey that has not been formally addressed by people opposing the use of this invasive screening test, and that is the impact of the questionnaire itself on the child.
For years, public relations experts and media specialist have known that besides gathering information, tests, surveys, and questionnaires also teach.
On the 10 minute TeenScreen “quick mental health check up” survey, a child sits in front of an impersonal computer screen answering questions about his or her worries, fears, family composition, interpersonal relationships, and even drug use.
Then, in an offhanded, abrupt manner, questions such as - Have you ever thought about killing yourself - appear. The unthinkable notion of killing oneself becomes a “thinkable” solution to his/her adolescent pain.
Killing oneself is further pounded into the adolescent psyche with an extended series of questioning on suicidal ideation:
§ Are you still thinking about killing yourself?
§ Have you seriously thought about killing yourself?
§ Have you thought of killing yourself for some time?
Preceding the “kill” questions, there is not one question that would seed hope in the child’s mind. Such questions might be:
§ Are you aware of the fact that your are not alone, and that many of your friends have the same worries and fears?
§ Are you aware of the fact that many of these feeling will pass as adults help you to learn to cope with adversity?
§ Did you know that there are trained professionals who can help you in private settings?
Dr. Arlene Seal, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, addresses the psychological harm of asking children such questions in her article, Questions, Questions: Do survey’s influence children? 1
The general purpose of any particular survey is evident by its questions. However, in addition to eliciting information, do the questions also influence the respondent? The simple answer is YES!”
First of all, the questions direct focus on the survey’s topics—making the respondent seriously think about them. Secondly, surveys can actually stimulate curiosity about those topics and spark possibilities of which the respondent was previously unaware.
The extent and the detail of the information pursued by the questions is related to the degree of influence that can impact the respondent’s thinking and affective behavior. The critical point..is what attitudes and potential behaviors are being stimulated by the awareness...In such surveys, children’s attention are directed to these negative behaviors and the manner of questions in many instances subtly sets the expectations in that direction…such surveys are actually socializing children INTO the problems that are intended to be prevented. (Emphasis added)
Not only do the questions set expectations in this negative direction, but they also “normalize” the behavior in the mind of the child. Can anyone say child abuse?
1 Seal, Arlene, PhD. ”Questions, Questions: Do surveys influence children?” Education Advocate, July/August 2000, Vol., No.4.