Another child has taken their own life. Another article was posted on Facebook. Another prayer was said. Teen suicide is an epidemic in all of our neighborhoods. Some children suffer from depression, some from anxiety and some suffer from the insane pressure that parents, the community and society has placed on them. Here’s a post that hit me hard today and I implore you to read this young man’s letter. We need to stop the insanity and save our children.
His voice represents what many children are feeling.
There are many warning signs and risk factors for teen suicide but there are some frustratingly preventable ones. General pressure is one of them. The insanity starts when our kids are barely out of diapers. Is my child a gifted artist, she drew these stick figures and I think they are quite advanced. Should I put my child in private school so they can realize their true mathematical potential? My child can’t sit still in his chair at the age of 5, should we medicate him? Hey, you must start your child in soccer when they are five because if you don’t start young they will not be able to compete in their later years.
None of this matters. You know what matters? Childhood. Making sure that gifted artist doesn’t shove a crayon up her nose. Empathy. Learning through play. Getting dirty, muddy, hiking and laughter. Playing with clay, finger painting and rolling down the hill and getting leaves in your hair. Don’t lose that. Don’t listen to the other moms who strike fear in you.
They say it takes a village. This can be true in both a positive and negative sense. On one hand, your village can lift you up but they can also create chaos. Did your child do well on the assessment? What was his or her SOL score? Did they get into the elite sports program? Did you sign up a year in a advance for basketball? How is your parenting? Do you suck? Is my kid better than yours?
We need to stop the insanity.
If I would have to do it all over again I would ignore the noise from the other parents. I would have reduced the pressure on my small children. If you are a young mother, I am telling you a secret – other moms don’t know what the hell they are doing. They talk a big game but the truth is they will look back and question why they cared so much about their child being labeled as gifted or getting a trophy. They will realize that they were a mother of a five year old, a ten year old, a twenty year old for the first time in their lives and they were not experts. They were flawed human beings. These same moms will tell you in twenty years that their kids turned out to be exactly who they were meant to be and that they worried a whole lot over nothing.
Parent the child YOU have, not the one that you think you are supposed to have. Trust your gut. If your child looks worn down or if you know of another child who is struggling, it is time to act.
Community. In my hometown we are truly a melting pot of different cultures. I also live in a very affluent county in the United States. My son knows children who have been studying for their SAT tests since sixth grade. He knows children that have been in Kumon (extra learning) since they were five. These children are under so much pressure and they share their struggles and create their own sense of urgency amongst their peers.
This is an epidemic and it is contagious. Highly contagious. I can tell my son that he doesn’t have to worry, to just do his best and that everything will be just fine and yet he ignores me. He looks at me like I’m crazy as if I don’t understand how hard he has to work, how hard he wants to work in order to be successful. It’s a perspective I am trying to change every single day. I do not want him to define his entire life by his academics. He is so much more.
What about social media and cyber bullying? If your child was drinking every night would you keep alcohol in the house? Why are we allowing our kids unlimited access to their smart phones? If your son or daughter is getting ripped apart on social media sites, if they are being cyber bullied, attacked or harassed in any way, it is your responsibility to limit their access to social media. Don’t feel bad about taking that smart phone away. Don’t feel bad about accessing their phone, their texts or understanding EXACTLY what apps they are using. Look at ask.fm, instagram and other social media sites. If your child is posting a picture of themselves in a bathing suit and asking their peers how they look, then that’s probably not the best use of their time nor is it helpful for their self esteem and self worth. It takes one comment, one fat comment, one slut comment, one ugly comment to send a teen spiraling. Why are we not protecting our children? Let’s switch the tables also while we’re at it, and ask why we are not holding our children accountable when they attack another. These risk factors are avoidable. Too many parents are afraid of social media and restricting their children in general.
What can we do? As many of you know, I volunteer with my dog “Cap,” in dementia care homes. I also volunteer in schools and sometimes visit counseling groups or kids who are stressed because they have to be home for two weeks during winter break and it’s not a loving environment. I and other volunteers go to these schools because the kids are overwhelmed by upcoming finals and assessments and need a break. I bring this up not because I think this is an answer. I bring it up because although these are good efforts by the school and by non profit organizations, the truth is that nothing will change unless we all pay more attention. Kids talk to each other, they talk to our own sons and daughters and perhaps if we all just listen a bit more we could make a difference.
What else can we do to prevent suicide? We listen. We speak up. We educate ourselves about the risk factors and warning signs.
Risk Factors: Health – Environmental – Historical. (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
- Health factors including mental illness, traumatic pain and traumatic brain injury. This is why we see teens at risk, those with depression, anxiety and substance use. Be on high alert.
- Environmental factors include access to lethal methods (firearms, drugs), prolonged STRESS. This includes bullying and the pressure that our children feel. Stressful events like divorce or other tragedy. Exposure to suicide.
- Historical factors include child neglect and family history of suicide.
Warning Signs: Talk – Behavior – Mood (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
- Listen to how a person talks. If they talk about feeling hopeless, about suicide, or about feeling trapped. These are warning signs.
- Behavior changes or alerts. Increased substance abuse, withdrawing or isolating themselves, aggression and fatigue.
- Mood. People who are thinking about suicide may appear depressed, anxious, irritable, angry or may just seem like they’ve lost interest.
Our community is starting to see one or more suicides EVERY single year. I have read posts by the grieving parents begging others to pay attention, and prevention programs put into place and still….every year, within walking distance of our homes, we lose another child. I don’t remember this when I was growing up. What has happened?
How to save a life. I don’t know. Maybe we start paying more attention. Maybe we acknowledge that suicide affects us all, it knocks on all of our doors and no one is immune to its impact or threat. Maybe we form a task force of united parents against suicide. The task force agrees that we care more. We do whatever we can do to bring perspective to our children and to others. We protect our kids and don’t apologize for doing so. We hold them accountable. We understand that tragedy in our lives affects those we love and puts them at risk. We hold hands as a community and do our very best to love and care for each other.
Finally….we talk to our kids. We check in on them. Ask them how they are doing and how their friends are doing. We speak up.
How to save a life.