The Truth About Teen Suicide -- What Parents Should Watch Out For
The New Warning Signs
As a result, some experts are suggesting new things to look for -- much more subtle signs that might suggest a child is prone to depression or suicide -- and things we can do to help defuse those triggers.
One suggestion, according to Dr. Shaffer, will benefit the kid who is obviously overworked but has rejected a parent's suggestion to relax. "When you see that the balance of a child's life is out, that they seem to be getting excessively worked up about this kind of thing, this is usually an indication of needing to get checked out," he says.
Bradley offers his own tips for what to do next: "If the kid is noncommunicative, try to get them to see a counselor. First, offer that option; if they refuse, softly start to turn up the pressure. Say, 'Go one time and I'll stop bugging you.' Third, bribe them, offer an incentive -- 'I tell you what, see the shrink a couple of times and I'll get you those concert tickets' -- because sometimes that's what they need to get past their own resistance. Giving them a bribe may give them an excuse to go see the shrink. Sometimes they'll tell us things they won't tell the parents. The worst thing that happens is you waste a couple of sessions and a couple of fees, but it can be a lifesaver."
Another suggestion is to openly discuss suicide with your kids, just as we teach kids about drug use or sexual activity. "It's exactly the same drill," says Bradley. "You're equipping the child to handle something they might encounter in the future." He advises seizing the opportunity of a celebrity's suicide attempt or a relevant local news story as a natural motive for discussing it. If that fails, he says, just "take your kid out for coffee and say, 'Have you ever thought about killing yourself?' Raise that question... Get her to talk as much as she's willing on the subject with additional questions about her views and beliefs, and don't shut her up by preaching about your own."
One final suggestion Bradley offers has to do with failure, which he says has taken on a gravity in today's children that is inappropriate and unforgiving. Failure is okay, says Bradley, because it teaches resilience. "It's important that parents talk to their kids about expecting them to fail and talking about their own failures. Some kids think parents can't handle it when their children fail. Those kids become so ashamed -- they think their worth to their parent is their achievement level."
Originally published on LHJ.com, March 2008.