It’s late in the evening for me (9pm, and yes I know that makes me a whimp), but I had to get some thoughts down for you. This comes from a place of saddness, so bear with me.
You seriously don’t know how long you have with your teen. You think you know, but you don’t. God is in control of the length of your life, and not you. There are things that happen we never see coming and they can hit us like a car driving 60mph straight into a brick wall. The twists and turns that befall a family are unpredictable as the wind, and sometimes these are tragic.
This year I have sat with two teenagers who came to therapy after making serious attempts on their lives. I have sat with countless others who have wanted to end it all. Thankfully none have succeeded.
Parents, this is something that seems to be afflicting our youth with a sickening prevalence. Our teenagers are lost. They cannot understand why their lives seem to be fraught with difficulty when their friends all look so happy online. Many haven’t learned fortitude, and therefore become overwhelmed by their day to day problems. In this digital age they expect instant results. When they don’t feel better immediately, they presume they will be stuck in their depressed state forever; forever is a very long time.
We have a huge responsibility to teach our children how to 1) hope in the dark times and 2) communicate their angst. To address the first point, your child needs to understand that he is created for a purpose. Your child also needs to understand that in no way is he behind if he doesn’t know what his purpose is. Your child needs to know his life isn’t ruined if things don’t go according to plan. Do you know the number of college students I’ve worked with over the years who didn’t get into the college of their choice, and ended up glad to be at their second, third or even fourth choice? Do you know the number of broken-hearted girls I’ve counseled who contacted me years later to say they’ve met their future spouse (and he isn’t that boy from high school)? Your teenager needs to know that life evolves and there is always hope in God.
Regarding point number two, how to communicate angst, teach your adolescents that it is okay not to be okay. This is something you’ll have to model. Maybe you even need to learn this for the first time in your life. Not everyday is good and enjoyable, and that’s just life. Weird, upsetting, stressful things happen…to ALL of us. Sometimes there is nothing wrong, but everything still feels wrong. That is also okay. No, we don’t sit helplessly waiting for someone else to fix our problems. However, we do have to tolerate times where things aren’t right and we’re powerless to change our circumstances. In those times acceptance is a big tool. So please, don’t come home from work throwing things around the house and cursing because your boss is probably cutting you at the next layoff. You cannot control that. Just show that while you don’t like it, you accept it. It does wonders for your watching teenager.
At the end of all this though, realize teens are vulnerable. Even the most happy, popular, athletic kid who seems to have it all going for him is vulnerable. Teenagers have intensely stormy moods at times without the maturity to wait them through. These are the concerning moments; these are the times when impulsivity is a teen’s worst enemy.
So yes, this has been a hard fought year. The 2017-2018 school year was full of difficulties for our teenagers. They were faced with crazy pressure, and are some of the least prepared I’ve ever seen to deal with disappointment. Let’s band together as a community and use our village to help them through. Let’s set our phones down and pay more attention. Goodness knows they need it. And above all else, let’s make sure we’re talking to them enough to know if they feel suicidal. We can’t help if we don’t know.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT