Yesterday was the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that the rates of suicide attempts in children and teenagers have been rapidly increasing over the past 10 years. I find that fact to be terrifying!
Unfortunately, I personally knew three people who attempted suicide prior to the age of 16. I know of hundreds of others.
But what’s the cause of this awful epidemic? Obviously, I am no expert and I can’t tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt, but I certainly have my suspicions. I also have some strong beliefs on things that need to change to lower the suicide rates in children and teenagers.
Causes Of Suicide In Children and Teens
1. Lack Of Parental Involvement
Way too many kids today are being raised to just not feel loved. Record numbers of kids in foster care, being raised by other family members, or just those who are practically raising themselves are unbelievable! Our society has gotten to the point that children often feel (and are treated) as though they come below things like television, cell phones, co-workers, or parties.
I hear so often of kids who are dropped off at school or daycare at 6:00 a.m., picked up at 7:00 p.m. and put straight back into bed. While yes, sometimes this is because parents truly do have to work all of those hours and it is unavoidable, there are a lot more cases where the parents will tell you that they both have to work because otherwise, they can’t afford that brand new car.
I’ve even heard parents say, “Yeah I’m not working tomorrow but he’s still going to daycare so I can get the house cleaned up.” Guess what you’re telling your children? You are saying to them, “I would rather clean my home alone than spend time with you.”
What do you think that does to their self-esteem? It sure doesn’t help it.
2. Dismissal of Emotions
Even for those parents who are highly involved in their children’s lives, sometimes it is way too easy for all of us to just push away their emotions. We expect our kids to “toughen up” even when we ourselves have temper tantrums (Yep, you heard me… when you get angry and yell or throw things, you’re acting just like a toddler).
Often times, we force our kids into situations that we wouldn’t stay in ourselves. All too often I hear of children being bullied by their teachers. But the parents do nothing, or even tell the child they are in the wrong. Our kids don’t feel listened to.
3. No Pride
Especially for children who aren’t the best at academics or sports performance, we don’t provide other ways for them to find pride in themselves. Most of their days are spent on schoolwork, where they are often corrected and told they are wrong. Then they may play sports where their success depends on the performance of the entire team.
While team sports are awesome and I’m not bashing academics, these situations don’t allow children and teenagers to become proud of themselves. They need to be able to accomplish things single-handedly so they know they are 100% responsible for the positive outcome.
4. No Responsibility
Somewhat related to number three, another reason for children and teen suicide rates is the fact that so many are never given any responsibilities. They are coddled for years and years and then suddenly they reach a certain age and a flip is switched where they are suddenly expected to handle things on their own completely. That would be enough to drive anyone mad.
5. Too Much Social Media
Okay, okay so I get it. This one is talked about way too much. Even so, I can’t not mention it. I fully believe social media is the downfall of our society. Social media allows people to say things that they would be terrified to say to someone in person.
Perhaps worse still though, is the way that it shows the “perfect lives” of others. Even as an adult, it is often hard to remember that the lives of others aren’t really as peachy as it may seem on Instagram or Facebook. Yes, those Pinterest pics look great! But how many times did they have to do it before they had it right?
For teenagers, this is even more true. They may see the pictures of their friends with these brand new clothes or fancy vacations and it sparks very negative feelings. Division may come between kids and their parents when parents refuse to allow things they see on social media.
In my opinion, however, the worst thing about social media is the isolation. We have become so focused on our technology, that we’ve forgotten how to truly connect with people. And that lack of true, genuine friendship I believe is a bit component of the high suicide rates in children and teenagers.
How To Lower Youth Suicide Rates
1. Listen To Your Kids
That may seem a bit cliche, but I believe it’s the most important thing you can ever do. Just listen. Don’t judge them. Don’t criticize them. Listen to them. Ask them questions and wait for a response. Need some help on some questions to get them talking? Try these:
- If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?
- In five years, what do you think your life will look like?
- If you could have anything in the whole world, what would you want?
- If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?
- How do you think you can help someone?
- How do you think someone else could help you?
Truly listen to their responses and hear their heart. Make sure they know they can talk to you about anything and that you’ll believe them and respect them.
If they are truly having a problem, rather than dismissing it as “they’re just a kid,” think about how it would relate to an adult.
For example, if your child tells you how a teacher is continuously being rude to them, ask yourself how you would feel if that was your boss. What would you do? If day after day you were being cursed, made fun of, taunted, etc.? More than likely, you would find a new job, right? Sometimes, our kids need to get away from an environment, just like adults do.
Put yourself in their shoes and consider if you were in the situation, what would you want to happen. You could even ask that question directly. If you’re told about a problem say, “Wow, that sounds rough. Can you think of anything we can do to fix it?” Let them offer some suggestions and you offer some as well and work together to find a solution.
2. Teach Them A Skill (Or Two or Five)
Find out what they’re interested in and help them pursue that interest. If they like computers, get them some books about coding and praise them when they make their first video game on their own. If they’re a writer, encourage them to start a blog. Buy a photographer a camera and help them find some YouTube instructional videos. If they like cars, find a local mechanic who is looking for an apprentice.
By allowing your children the ability to pursue their interests, you will be enabling them to do something they can take pride in. You can always help it go further by encouraging them to monetize their abilities, or donate their skills to those in need.
3. Encourage Kindness
Set aside some time every day just to talk (and listen of course) to your kids. Use everyday situations to discuss important issues like bullying, showing kindness, not discriminating, etc. Kids are so intelligent, but sometimes they are so bombarded by what their peers do, they don’t realize how damaging their words or actions are.
Take them to volunteer at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, or domestic violence homes and teach them about the different walks of life. Allow them to spend time with the elderly and with those younger than them. Teach them that being different is okay and that everyone deserves kindness and respect.
4. Take Them Seriously
If there is a problem that a conversation and/or a change won’t fix, don’t just expect your child to toughen up. Try to find help elsewhere, whether that be through a church, a doctor, a mental health professional, or just a family friend. Find help somewhere if you don’t have the answers. There is no shame in that whatsoever. In fact, it could make a HUGE positive difference.
Need Some Help?
If you have a hard time talking with your older kids and teens about some of these topics, check out these books from Usborne Books & More. Order a couple and sit down with your child to read them together. As another option, read them separately and then meet to discuss your thoughts about them. I can almost guarantee it will help your relationship, and can very well lower suicide rates in children and teens in this upcoming year.