An Open Letter to Parents of Teens from a Suicide Prevention Specialist

in Blog
September 7, 2016

main-teen

I provide suicide prevention presentations to an average of 6,000 teens a year. I teach the warnings signs, how to get help and who to go to for help. It seems common sense that a teen would go to their parent when they need help, but what we know about teens and parents is that this is not always the case. So what is it that keeps teens from reaching out to their parents when they are struggling with an emotional crisis?

In every presentation I ask, “Why is it so hard to go to your parents if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts?

Here are the 3 things that are repeated to me class after class, school after school, year after year and what you can do about it.

  • “I don’t want to disappoint them.” Teens tell me that they know their parents are dealing with a lot and teens are afraid of adding to the chaos of life. Something we need to model and teach to our teens is that it is okay to ask for help. A good way to model this is when you are having an emotional day, take time to talk to your significant other, your children, a friend or family member. Make sure your teens see you doing this. Remember our actions speak louder than words.
  • “They don’t believe me.” Our teens are fearful that they will be called a drama queen or a sissy if they reach out for help or that their pain will be minimized or laughed at. When adults say things like, “she just wants attention,” my response is always, “yes, they do, give it to them!” If your teen is acting out, withdrawing or posting on social media in a way you don’t understand or agree with, take the time to listen to why they are doing what they are doing. When your teen says they are thinking of suicide it is because they are.
  • “They will never leave me alone again.” I agree that once you hear that your teen has considered suicide it would be hard not to hover around them, trying to keep them safe. This, however, is often a tricky balancing act. Instead of helicopter parenting your teen, try empowering them. This will also empower you. Make sure that your teen knows they can come to you at any time, but also give them skills to help them help themselves. One thing you can do is add crisis numbers and apps to their phone. Did you know you can text 741-741 and speak with a professional counselor for FREE 24/7/365. This number connects directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The most important thing I have learned from working with teens and parents is that you guys love each other and want what is best for each other, and that’s all that really matters.

For more information on suicide prevention trainings or grief support email Kimberly.pratt@northrange.org

Kimberly Pratt, MA
Educator and Clinician
Suicide Education and Support Services
North Range Behavioral Health