This morning, I entered a sunny room jam packed with parents, educators, and community members. They all looked rather serious, which was unsurprising, given that the topic was a community conversation about suicide. We were all there because we worry about the increasing rates of suicide among adolescents.
The school district brought in Dr. Jonathan Singer, Ph.D., LCSW, author of the book Suicide in Schools and professor at Loyola University Chicago. He presented the facts, busted some myths, reviewed risk factors and warning signs, and offered suggestions for what parents can do.
His advice was great, and it really resonated with me. I wanted to share the tips he offered to parents to promote their kids' mental well-being.
1. "Want the best for your child, not for your child to be the best."
When Dr. Singer said this, it felt like everyone's breath caught in their throat. I can only imagine how different childhood would be if every parent adopted this philosophy.
I struggle with wanting my child to be not necessarily the best but the best she can be. Even with that, I don't always know if my expectations are reasonable, or how hard or far to push. (How many times am I going to see the article about how daughters with nagging mothers are the most successful in my social media feed?)
I don't have answers, but this as a guiding principle seems like a good place to start.
2. Prioritize sleep.
You know how when you're tired, everything seems harder, especially when it comes to thinking clearly and being rational?
Well, on a good day it's a challenge for adolescents to think clearly and be rational, and so it's even harder for them when they're sleep deprived.
Singer mentioned that lack of sleep is correlated with suicide risk (and this article says the same).
It's not easy to make kids get enough sleep at night, but it's worth an effort. And explaining why it matters may help.
It's also important for parents to help kids practice good sleep hygiene, meaning not sleeping with their phone.
Finally, this is a compelling reason to push back school start times.
3. Talk with your teen.
"Tell me more" is a phrase that Singer recommends parents use. It's clear that you're there not to problem solve or to judge, but just to listen. And it lets them know you'll be there even when their friends are not.
He also stressed that it is completely normal for there to be subjects the parent and teens don't talk about. Depression and suicide are not two of those subjects. They are topics that parents must discuss with their kids. And no, discussing suicide with your teen does not make them suicidal.
4. Let them see you, their parent, take care of your own mental health.
Even your teens, or especially your teens, are watching. Make sure your kids see you taking care of yourself and your mental health, especially during this busy and often stressful time of year.
5. Keep calm and parent on.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but maintaining your cool, even under pressure, helps your kids both feel secure and see that it can be done.
Prior Post: How parenting feels like one long goodbye
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