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

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated February 24, 2020

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 of choice they should be given regarding their decisions. As parents (or guardians) it is our responsibility to ensure that they remain safe, despite teenage tendencies to experiment and rebel.

A huge part of protecting our teenagers is understanding why they sometimes put themselves at risk. So, now the question needs to be asked: what is the number one killer of teenagers?

Let's take a closer look at how the statistics line up.

Let The Statistics Speak For Themselves: What Is The Number One Killer Of Teenagers?

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 of what is the number one killer of teenagers? We'll take a look at the three leading causes of teen deaths to see if this is the case; starting with number 3…


Numbers 3 And 2: Homicide And Suicide

As we said before; teenagers are stuck in an awkward limbo between childhood and adulthood for over half a dozen years. With the onset of adolescence, these teenagers 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 bouts of rebelliousness and recklessness, as well as the pursuit of larger than life dreams and aspirations. However, this period of self-discovery 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 teenage years 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 number two spot in teen deaths. However, while the prevalence of teen homicides has been falling, teen suicides have been on the rise. This is why, as parents and guardians, we need to not only focus on the physical health of our teenagers but also on their mental health as well.

The teenage brain is still developing, and yet teenagers are dealing with intense emotions and increasingly complex problems and responsibilities as they grow into adulthood. Less-mature brains are typically more impulsive, and this can lead to teens making decisions when they are in pain or facing problems that could put them at risk or in danger.

Number 1: Accidents

What is the number one killer of teenagers? Accidents.

Remember when we talked about recklessness (which more often than not goes hand in hand with rebelliousness as well)? In fact, approximately 50 percent of all teenage deaths are the direct result of some unintentional injury. However, this statistic is so large that it can be further separated and refined into four subcategories.

The fourth and smallest (but still significant) part of 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. Well over 40 percent of Americans live in a household that has at least one firearm. However, while our Second Amendment rights are important, gun safety is important as well, and the lives of our teens (and, in fact, all of our children) 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 third and second parts of the accident category, regarding statistical size, are unintentional drowning and unintentional poisoning. This harkens back to what we have reiterated several times about supervision and education. Reckless behavior and a lack of knowledge can often lead to these situations.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading section of the accident category, with three-quarters 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 number one cause of teen death. This is the true answer to the question: What is the number one killer of teenagers?

So why is this the case? Well for one thing, 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 number of teens also admitted to riding as a passenger with a teen driver 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 number one killer of teenagers?") you have started taking a step in the right direction. The fact of the matter is that 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 out of your day to listen to their problems (no matter how simple they may seem) is all that you need to do. However, the importance of seeking out professional help 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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