Hey there, parent...
It's a stressful time of year. School is almost over and with finals and APs and keystones and senior projects, there is just SO MUCH PRESSURE on your teen to get it all done... to not only keep up with their friends, but to complete assignments and make big life decisions with what they hope is a perceived effortless perfection.
Why are we doing this to our teens?
Why do we do it to ourselves?
At the teen support center, we see over 100 teens in office each week (between groups and therapists) and a major consensus right now is that "THE STRUGGLE IS REAL."
Teens are reporting "dark thoughts"
Teens are engaging in unhealthy behaviors as a means of escape
Teens are shutting down and just simply refusing to complete work because it's all TOO MUCH
Be aware of the warning signs
If your teen is isolating more than usual, reports feeling hopeless or makes statements about wanting to go to sleep and never wake up, or wonders aloud if anyone would care if they weren't around, these are signs that your teen may be passively or actively having suicidal thoughts.
Talk to your teen!
It is important to be direct when talking to your teen about safety concerns. If you are unable to comfortably ask the questions to keep your teen safe, they will sense this and perhaps not be straightforward with you in an attempt to spare your feelings.
Many parents fear that being so direct and asking questions about suicide will put ideas in their teen’s head that was not there before. This is simply not true. Bringing up the idea of suicide shows that you are taking your child’s pain seriously and that there is no topic that is too shocking or difficult for you to hear about if they choose to talk about it.
Arm yourself with the same knowledge that a clinician assessing for suicide would have so that you can understand your teen's thoughts and feelings.
Using the questions below, you can assess your teen’s intentions.
Are you feeling hopeless about your future?
Do you have thoughts to end your life?
Do you have a plan for how you would end your life?
When were you thinking about doing this?
On a scale from zero to ten, if zero is not at all, and ten is definitely, how likely are you to follow through with this plan?
** ALWAYS seek professional help when you have safety concerns regarding your teen. These questions are simply meant to be a guide for how to better understand your teen's inner monologue. **
Validate the struggle
Validating your teen shows them that their thoughts and feelings make sense and that you can understand why they feel this way. It does not mean that you are condoning or agreeing with their thoughts or behavior.
Validating your teen will show your teen that you are listening, that you are not judging them, and that you care about them and the
relationship. Giving your teen this understanding and nonjudgmental acceptance can help to decrease urges to self-harm that stem from feeling invalidated.
How is it done?
• Look at your teen; make eye contact.
• Pay attention to your teens words AND nonverbal cues, like facial expressions and body language.
• Decide how you think your teen is feeling in the moment.
• Use your own words to reflect back to your teen how you think they feel like,
“It seems like you feel really disappointed about that,”
or, “I can understand why you would be upset by that.”
• Be sure your own nonverbal communication matches your words. Be mindful of what your facial expressions and body language convey to your teen too.
Don't be afraid to check in and monitor them more closely (even if it annoys them)
Let your teen know that because you care about them and their safety that you'll be monitoring them a little bit more closely. Of course YOU know that this is not a punishment, but your teen may perceive this as frustrating and/or annoying when they KNOW and insist that they are "fine" in any given moment.
Nighttime seems to generally be the hardest for teens. Having an extra goodnight check in closer to midnight than 10 PM to ensure they are not stuck in negative or harmful thoughts may be helpful.
Implementing a number system for how to discuss safety concerns and difficult emotions may be helpful too. Have your teen mark a number on the calendar each day for their current status. 0 is happy and 10 is actively suicidal. Using numbers helps your teen have a simple system to relay information and it takes away some of the fear sharing emotionally charged information.
Seek help and create a support system to surround your teen
Raising any teen is a wild ride, but when your teen is in emotional distress, please seek support immediately. Here are some local numbers to get you started...
Crisis support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Access Services, Mobile Crisis Center in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, PA:
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress to prevent crises and keep you safe.
Your teen's safety is more important than their GPA. Period.
If your teen is struggling now, please take the pressure off and get them the support they need. Don't wait until the school year ends and you have more time or less activities and obligations. Depression and "dark thoughts" are serious and we need to receive them that way and take action.