Article by Emmy Crouter, MSW
It’s hard to ignore the news coverage of teen suicide in our country and in our state of Colorado. Teen suicide is on the rise, according to multiple studies, with a variety of factors being entertained as contributors. Thankfully teen suicide is preventable and there are many things you can do as a parent to help your child stay safe.
Talk to your child about suicide. With the advent of the internet and social media, your child is exposed to information about suicide, whether or not they seek it out on their own. Discussing suicide and the information they have about suicide is vital to your teen’s health and wellbeing. Process any incidents that occur at school. If your child is consuming media specific to suicide, such as the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, watch with your child and process the content with them – you are your teen’s first line of defense in debunking myths about suicide. To learn more about the myths and facts around suicide visit this website: http://www.suicidology.org/resources/myth-fact
Connect with your child in all aspects of life. Perhaps your teen gives you one word answers about their school day or sports practice. Keep engaging with your child about all aspects of their life and become attuned to their emotional needs. If your teen appears upset, offering a non-judgmental ear shows them that you care about their feelings – even if the issues they present seem small or juvenile to you.
Monitor your child’s media consumption. Set limits with your child around the time they spend in front of screens. If your teen is consuming media such as 13 Reasons Why, limit their consumption to one or two episodes a week so that they have time to process the content. As previously suggested, watch with your teen and openly discuss the content with them. In terms of social media, encourage your child to speak up if they see something concerning posted by a peer.
Discourage perfectionism. The best way to show your child that it’s okay not to be perfect, is to practice that yourself. Adolescents will pick up on the way you treat yourself and take those cues from you. Set the example and show your teen that they don’t have to be perfect to be valuable and worthy. Getting a B+ is great if your child worked hard for it! Teens are under an enormous amount of pressure to perform in school, with their peers, and in other areas of life, often heightened by social media and curated images people choose to post. Help your child distinguish between reality and what they see on screens.
Give your child resources. If your child is exhibiting warning sides of depression or suicidal thoughts (read more here: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=55145), continue to provide support to them alongside a helping professional. Remember that enrolling your child in therapy still requires your involvement! Be sure to check in with your teen about how therapy is progressing and connect with their therapist on a regular basis. Offer to join sessions and inquire if the therapist believes family work would beneficial to your teen. Give your teen access to crisis text and talk lines like this (https://teenlineonline.org/).
If you are concerned about your child’s safety, call 911 or take your child to the nearest emergency room. As always, please contact Pennock Center for Counseling at 303-655-9065 to enroll yourself, your child, or your family in counseling with us.