It is with a heavy heart that I write this week’s blog. Last week, we learned that one of my teens’ classmates took her own life. Of course the big question is “Why?” and there is never a good answer. Our school community held a prayer service for the students and their families and has made counselors available, but something like this has an impact on everyone regardless. It also makes parents take a look at our own kids and wonder what steps we can take to make sure such a needless tragedy never happens to them.
In the few (thankfully!) instances of teen suicide that I’ve been close to, it seems that there have been subtle changes in the weeks or months prior to the tragedy and from the things I’ve read and heard this seems to be the case frequently. I know I go to great lengths to keep both my kids healthy and safe so I’ve decided to share a few things I feel are important to look for during these particularly rough years:
- Regular “touch base” discussions. Aside from keeping the lines of communication open, I try to have regular discussions with my kids where I have meaningful conversations about what’s going on with them, especially if I see specific things like mood or attitude changes. This doesn’t mean a lecture, just a casual discussion to find out how they are, if anything is going on or if they need help with anything. More times than not I have discovered that something was going on (mostly minor teen stuff) and they were able to sort it out with me.
- Time away from the “screen.” Teens are so connected today they are almost always in front of some kind of screen–the computer, the TV, the phone, etc. This means they are also not doing anything physical. If you have a teen who only does this, he is isolating himself from real socializing, not to mention physical activity and that’s simply not healthy in my opinion. Getting some fresh air and moving around does wonders for both the body and mind. You might even want to buddy up with your teen if this is a problem and go running, play tennis or some other activity with him (you could even use this time to do your “touch base discussion!”).
- Limit the junk. No, eating too much sugar isn’t going to make your teen suicidal, but studies show that teens who do have a bad diet tend be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who eat healthy. We also know that overweight teens are more likely to be bullied and that foods high in fat and calories tend to pack on the pounds. Teens are less likely to gain weight by being active and eating a healthy diet so try to make healthier foods available at home.
- Don’t trivialize their problems. This can be hard because as adults we deal with real problems every day (paying bills, health issues, etc.), but to a teenager that break-up or that fight with their “BFF” is a big deal. And sometimes they really are going through major issues like bullying or depression, for which they may need to see a doctor. When one of my kids is really upset about one of the usual teen dramas I tell them this: “Everything is passive.” I remind them that what seems huge today will soon pass and they will move on to something else. Of course they don’t always believe me, but after the dust has settled I remind them of how they had been feeling and how much better they are feeling weeks later (I want them to remember this for the next drama!).
I’m no expert–just a mom with a few ideas that I’m sharing with you. Maybe you have some good tips you’d like to share, if so I’d encourage you to do so by using the comment section below. I think the most important thing is to be engaged in your teen’s life. These years, as we all remember too well, are tough ones and it’s important for us to be there in case they want to give up.