You’ve doubtless seen the spike of youth suicide covered on the news.
Indeed, the rate has greatly increased, even more so than the last spike in the 1990s. Perhaps your own community or network of friends has suffered from it.
As a parent, nothing is quite as terrifying as the thought of losing a child. Losing them by suicide is even more devastating.
Researchers are somewhat mixed in their opinions about the cause of the dramatic upswing in adolescent mental health issues. Fortunately, you can be proactive and build an underlying sense of support and security for your tweens and teens.
Understand Teen Development
A very important first step in preventing youth suicide is to understand teen development.
So, educate yourself on what teens need. Adolescence is such a tumultuous time. New social demands, interest in the opposite sex, increased school pressure, and many more stressors yank their emotions back and forth.
They may act disinterested in you, but deep down, they still want to know that you are there for them. They still need you. And they want your approval and love. Through your behavior and actions toward your child, you can show that you value them.
Help Them Find Calm in the Chaos of Adolescence
Another crucial element teens need is a stable, caring home environment. While this advice is often given with young children in mind, it applies to teens as well. Their bodies may be bigger, but they still need the security of a safe home base.
So, spend time together. Eat meals together, support your youth in their interests, and find ways to do fun things with each other. Listen to them! Don’t be so insistent on giving advice that they feel you’re completely missing what they’re trying to tell you.
Provide Social Support
Tap into other social networks. Establish regular involvement with community groups for youths.
Your teen won’t always want to talk with you. Hence, having good relationships with other positive adult role models provides another option for them. And perhaps you will be the trusted adult another teen chooses to confide in.
Get to know your child’s friends as well. You don’t want to be the intrusive parent who tries to be everyone’s friend, but knowing who your teen is hanging out with is important. Be aware of what interests they share and how strong of an influence they have on your child.
Create a Physically Safe Home
Make your home as physically safe as possible. You may be beyond the baby-proofing years, but even teens can find ways to hurt themselves at home.
Remove firearms. Discreetly lock up liquor, prescription medications, and even over the counter medications. Of course, you don’t want to make them feel like they’re living in a prison or create stronger temptations for them by taking these steps. But being diligent with home safety can help.
Teach Them Healthy Social Media and Screen Time Skills
Much research does point to the role that social media plays in teen depression. Never before have youth had so many others watching them or commenting on their appearance and behavior. Likewise, they themselves have never had so many “influencers” to follow and compare themselves to.
Finding a way to limit screen use is important. Set a good example yourself in this matter. Invite your child to discuss how social media might be affecting them.
Along with limiting screen use, enforcing regular sleep hours is highly important. Power down an hour or more before bed and don’t allow screens in the bedroom. Teens need a dramatic amount of sleep. And sleep loss is linked to all sorts of mental health issues for children and adults.
Be a Good Model for Stress Management
Suicidal ideas generally don’t begin overnight (although, sometimes they do). Often, issues build slowly and pile up on top of each other.
So, be mindful of the stress in your teen’s life and play a positive role in helping them manage their stress. This includes family upheaval (divorce, sibling conflicts, job loss) and the adolescent stressors mentioned earlier. Numerous stress factors can push youths beyond what they are equipped to deal with on their own.
Keep an eye on any changes in your child’s behavior, activities, or friends. If you see dramatic mood changes, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, or uncharacteristic social withdrawal, don’t ignore it.
Your tweens and teens do not have to be victims of suicide. Having you as their ally is an important part of preventing such tragedy.
Be sure to reach out for professional help if you have even the slightest suspicion that your youth is contemplating suicide or struggling with depression. Our office specializes in treating youth and we are highly skilled at helping them navigate these issues.