Parenting

How Parents Can Be Their Teen's First Line of Defense Against Suicide

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Exotic birds such as African Greys hide their illness from the flock. They camouflage what’s happening on the inside to ward off rejection of the flock — just like our teenagers.

When exotic birds or teenagers die, more often than not, we don’t see it coming. As parents, we must be proactive.

On the same day that my 13-year-old son died in a car accident, I received heart-wrenching texts from a close friend asking me to pray for her teenaged son. He was threatening suicide.

Together, we walked through some of hardest days of our lives that year.

Suicide among teens has risen to become the second leading cause of death. Some experts point to stress and anger and blame electronic media as contributing factors. That seems rather shallow. Is it really that simple? I don’t buy it.

This deadly phenomenon is a culturally induced plague.

In response, family doctors are encouraged to screen children for mental health. That’s all well and good, but parents are the first line of defense. If you see some of the following problems, don’t wait until your next school check-up to step in.

  • Don’t dismiss significant mood swings as normal. They might need a little help in getting them under control—that’s just part of the parenting gig. If they insist nothing is wrong and simply won’t talk, dig…snoop…peek. Whatever it takes. This is not a trust issue. I trust that my child’s body is basically healthy. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop me from taking her temperature if she’s not acting well. Find the problem. 
  • Substance use. I lived through the seventies. I know there is experimental use that many kids experience and come out of. I’m not so sure you can dismiss this as something you did as a kid. Too many of today’s recreational drugs are deadly and addictive from the start. Besides, everyone knows “that guy” or “that girl” who never made it out of the “experimental stage” alive. It’s not a stage everyone goes through; it’s a tortuous road with few off-ramps.
  • Struggling with identity. Children are being taunted and bullied with gender identity. I’m not talking about kids claiming to be something they are not. Children are bullied by being told they are something they are not. If they conform to the pressure, they run twice the risk of suicide as their peers.
  • New fashion bullying. Rescue him or her if the situation warrants it. Or for some, they just need to be shown how to stand up to a bully. There’s a life lesson that will serve them well into adulthood.

Good relationships with your children are an important start. Don’t assume they won’t hide their pain or feelings of failure from you because you are close. Children want their parents to see them at their best, and they will hide their perceived faults from us. Don’t be afraid to root them out and show them that your relationship and love for them are stronger than anything they are going through.