Yesterday, my fourteen-year-old son started high school, and of course, we had many back-to-school conversations around this milestone. This time of year is a great time to bring up hard topics with your teens, as they are in a point of transition and may be facing new things neither one of you had ever imagined. One subject parents are loath to bring up is depression and teen suicide. I get it, as a mom, it’s hard for my brain to even go there when it comes to thinking about one of my children wanting to take his or her own life.
However, the fact is that having a conversation with your child about teen suicide may ultimately save his or her life.
Yesterday I read a well-timed article from the renowned Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, that covered just why talking with your child about teen suicide is so important: suicide is the second leading cause of death among children aged ten to nineteen years old. Yes, you read that right. More tweens and teens are dying by suicide in our country than by almost any other cause.
Parents need to talk to their kids about teen suicide before there is a problem.
While many parents are quick to respond to a crisis, when it comes to mental health issues with our kids, crisis time is much too late to have the talk. The talks (yes talks, plural) we have with our children about depression, anxiety and suicide should be done in the every day: during rides to and from practice, at the dinner table, or over a game of Mario Kart. Moms and dads, we’ve got to get in the game with teen and tween mental health before the problems start. So start having those conversations now. It will be hard, but it will also get easier.
Parents need to be direct about teen suicide.
When it comes to trying to find out if your child has ever had suicidal thoughts, there’s no time or reason to beat around the bush: ask the question directly. Our direct approach will teach our kids that these issues are too important to hedge around or hint about. It will help them be more hyper aware when talking to friends about mental health issues, and if you handle the conversation with a calm and loving manner, it will show them that YOU are where they need to run when they have thoughts of harming themselves, or know someone who does.
Parents need to tell their kids what to do if a friend confides in them that they are struggling with teen suicide.
One conversation I have had with my teenager several times already is the convo that emphasizes that he is not responsible for making any of his friends “ok” or solving their problems. “You’re still a kid,” I say, “and you’re neither equipped or responsible for fixing anyone.” With that in mind, our kids DO need to know what to do if a friend confides in them about self harm or suicidal thoughts. We need to speak to them about this again, ahead of time, so that their first reaction when facing this situation is to come to us or a trusted adult (teacher, guidance counselor, youth pastor) who can take action and contact the child’s parents. Stress to your child that a real friend does not keep secrets of this nature, and that saying nothing at all is far worse than betraying a friend’s confidence.
To many teens, every single problem seems like life and death (oh the drama) but now more than ever before, our kids do have 100% legitimate life-or-death issues. Teen suicide is wholly preventable. Equip yourself and your teen with the knowledge and communication to combat it. Put the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), in both of your phones, and make sure they know they can activate the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Moms and dads, love BIG on your teens as they start back to school. And love them by talking about really hard things. Not having this conversation is one regret no parent can afford.