Parents Need to Know: What is the Main Killer Of Teenagers?

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated October 29, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley

They aren't little kids anymore, and yet they aren't quite adults. In many ways, our teenagers still need our protection, even as grey areas arise as to just how much freedom they should be given regarding their decisions. As parents (or guardians) it is our responsibility to ensure that they remain safe, despite natural tendencies to experiment and rebel.

In protecting our kids we must understand why they sometimes put themselves at risk. So, now the question needs to be asked: what is the primary cause of teenage deaths?

Let The Statistics Speak For Themselves: What Is The Primary Cause Of Teenage Deaths?

Stuck in that strange limbo between childhood and adulthood, teenagers are more often than not characterized by their rebellious natures and careless behavior. So, does this recklessness and rebelliousness factor into the statistics related to the discussion on what the primary threat to teens is? We'll take a look at the three leading causes of adolescent deaths to see if this is the case; starting with number 3…


Number 3 and 2: Homicide And Suicide

With the onset of adolescence, these 'not quite adults' begin to want to take on more responsibility; they want to shape, define and refine their identity. This period in life is also earmarked by rebelliousness and recklessness, as well as the pursuit of larger than life dreams and aspirations. However, this self-discovery period also come with changes in their biology - changing physical appearances and an often maddening dose of hormones.

Psychologists over the years have often stated that the years from age 13-19 are undoubtedly some of the most emotionally turbulent times in our lives. It is also often theorized that it is at this time in our lives that many mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, addiction, and body dysmorphic disorder, begin to take root in our minds. This is sadly evidenced by the fact that suicide is now listed as the second highest ranking cause of teen death in the United States.

Up until late in the last decade, homicides held the second spot in teen deaths. However, while adolescent homicide numbers have been falling, teen suicides have been on the rise. This is why, as parents and guardians, we need to not only focus on our children's physical health, but on their mental health as well.

Number 1: Accidents

Approximately 45 percent of all teenage deaths result from some unintentional injury. However, this statistic is so large that it can be further separated and refined into subcategories.

The fifth part in the accident category is the "unintentional discharge of a firearm." The culture in the United States promotes gun ownership to some degree - as even referenced by the Second Amendment. About 42 percent of Americans live in a household that has a firearm (if not multiple). However, while our Second Amendment rights are important, gun safety is important as well, and our children's lives should be our primary concern. Teaching our teens proper gun safety and the importance of supervision when using firearms is paramount. Secure spaces for storing firearms (like gun safes) are important as well.


The fourth and third parts of the accident category, regarding statistical size, are transportation (besides motor vehicles) and unintentional drowning. This harkens back to what we have reiterated several times about supervision and education. Reckless behavior and lacking knowledge can often lead to these situations.

The second largest part of the accident category is drug poisoning, accounting for 16.6% of all teenagers' accidental deaths in 2019.

Motor vehicle accidents are the accident category's leading section, with over 61% of teenage accident deaths being motor vehicle-related. In fact, even if motor vehicle accidents were their separate category altogether, they would still rank as the primary cause of teen death. This is the true answer to the question: What is the primary source of teenage deaths?

So why is this the case? Well firstly, when surveyed, at least one in four teenagers stated that they simply don't use a seatbelt on every ride. Reasons for this included that they simply forgot, they were not planning on traveling far, they were going to a party, or that the seatbelt was not comfortable.

Texting while driving is also a primary factor, with two out of every five teenagers admitting that they have ridden with a teen driver who was texting. A similar amount of teens also admitted to riding as a passenger with a friend who was talking on a phone, and 95 percent said they think other teens have ridden with drivers who were texting or talking on a phone.

Lastly, drunk driving is a significant factor as well, with 40 percent of alcohol-related fatal car crashes involving teens. This is not a recent issue, as in as far back as 2003, at least 31 percent of teen drivers who died in car accidents were established to have been drinking.

What Can I Do To Save My Teenager?

By already asking the initial question ("What is the primary cause of teenage deaths?") you have started taking a step in the right direction. While your teens may be growing into functioning adults, they simply aren't quite there yet. Being a teenager is characterized by making mistakes and learning from them; however, as their parent or guardian, it is your job to make sure that those mistakes are not fatal ones. Teaching your teens critical thinking techniques, as well as highlighting the importance of safety, can both go a long way to prevent accidents.


Sometimes simply taking the time to listen to their problems (no matter how simple they may seem) is all that you need to do. However, how important  seeking out professional help is cannot be overlooked as well. If you think that your teen is showing signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, then speaking to a mental health professional as soon as possible could prevent fatal outcomes.

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