Whilst you read this paragraph somewhere in the world someone is taking their life! It is a pretty shocking sentence, hard to read, even harder if you stop for a moment and process what you just read. One person will commit suicide every 40 seconds, of course there are many, many more who have attempted it whilst you have read this.
Perhaps even more shocking is that the highest suicide statistics according to WHO (World Health Organisation), is the age bracket of 15 year olds to 29 year olds. 15 year olds, my daughter will be 15 next year. My nephew is 15, another nephew will be 15 in a few months, and in 4 years my second child will be 15. My friends have children who will soon turn 15, it is a very real, very scary statistic.
In Australia death by suicide amongst 15 to 24 is at its highest rate in ten years according to Beyond Blue, and with statistics that say 1 in 7 children aged 4 years old to 17 years old are suffering from a mental health condition, you can see why we should be concerned. According to the ABC, up to 1 in 12 teenagers are self harming, this includes cutting themselves, burning their flesh, and even electrcuting themselves.
I look at my teen daughter with her friends and I see smiles, I hear giggles, and see the genuine love they have for one another. She is 13 and has amazing friends whom I adore. What we often don’t see as parents are the struggles beneath the giggles. We may see glimpses, but beneath that happy surface, if you really get young high school children to open up, is a world of confusion.
Hormones are going wild, they feel intense pressure to fit in, to be accepted (as do we all), they are beginning to feel and experience things they have never felt before. They are under pressure socially and under pressure from teachers and parents to perform well across the board at school, and at their after school activities. On top of this they are trying to keep up with social media chats and posts. The pressure is immense. There is no shutting down, no going home and feeling like they can switch off. Between study, extra circular activities and checking their phones they have lost their freedom of down time. Throw in a mental health condition, or being bullied, parents fighting, or loosing someone they love and it is one giant pressure cooker.
In high school it feels like it is your whole life, it feels like the world is only as big as the amount of peers in your year level. You need to be accepted, or your life can literally become hell and not only for those 5 school days, but with social media it is 24/7. Sure we can take their phones off them when they get home, but then their anxiety is intensified by FOMO, fear of missing out, that can for a teen feel worse than anything. Thoughts can quickly turn to not fitting in at school if you are missing out on weekend chats, or catch ups because your parents took away your social media. As a parent it can leave us feeling like there are no right answers! No wonder the kids are confused, I am confused. My teen is only just entering this confusing world and I am already worried about what is to come!
We were teens once, we haven’t forgotten what it felt like to want to fit in, or what it was like when we wanted a certain boy, or girl to like us. We haven’t forgotten how we wanted to be invited to the parties, or how we wanted the latest fashions. It can be helpful to recall those times so we don’t try and minimise how our own teens are feeling. It can be helpful to remember just how confused we were, and how our hormones were going wild, and the pressure of trying to get good marks so we could have a good future, or not let our parents down were just so overwhelming! Don’t belittle anything your teen feels, be open, listen and don’t be tempted to tell them everything is OK, or it’ll be fine, stop worrying. The more we try to sweep it under a rug, the more they will internalise their confusion and the more likely they will be shut us out when more serious issues arise. Take the ‘small’ issues seriously, use the problems they come to us with to build trust, show them they can be open and honest without us overreacting. We need to build repore with our children, or our children’s friends, nieces or nephews, so they can always know we will be willing to listen.
Listening is KEY! Don’t jump in and try and solve every issue, let them talk, let them feel angry, let them cry if they need to. Listening means not turning it into a conversation about ‘when you were their age . . .’, it means just listen, actually hear them. Try not to yell, tell them they can trust you, tell them you are glad they are being honest and coming to you. Encourage them to come up with ideas that may help them solve the issue. Be patient.
There are clearly times where some issues can not be left for a young, vulnerable person to handle on their own. If you are unsure what to do, seek advice from a professional! Ring a help line. Book an appointment with a school counsellor, or with a child psychologist.
The statistics I wrote about earlier are scary, they are scary because they are real. As much as we want to always think of it as if that is other people’s children, we have to be more realistic. Does it scare me, YES! It scares me that it could be my child, it scares me that it could be my niece or nephew, it scares me it could be one of my friends children, it scares me that it is anyones precious child, we can not just pretend it isn’t happening.
If you are worried about your child, a friends child, a relative, or even yourself, please seek professional advice!
Some further tips on raising a secure, healthy child, and keeping communication lines open.
- model self love and acceptance
- work on your own anxieties, children are very perceptive, look after your own mental health
- be patient with your child when they are telling you things, even if they feel insignificant to you, they are very real to your child
- spend quality time with your child. Just by going on walks together, washing the dog together, going out for lunch together, and reading books together your child will know you enjoy their company
- focus on lots of good qualities about your child, not just a few
- ask your child’s opinion on things so they feel like their thoughts and opinions matter to you
- enrol them in an out of school activity that encourages them to have separate friendship groups from school friends
- take their concerns seriouslly
- help them develop good, healthy study habits from a young age
- don’t make them feel they have to get top marks or their life will always be a struggle
- let them follow their own dreams, do not force them into activities or career paths that you wish you had done
- teach them great life skills, as they get older they can do things like making their own lunch, cooking, cleaning, ironing, mowing the lawn etc.
- be kind to yourself, they are watching
- ask their teachers how they are doing both academically and socially
- give them responsibilities of caring for a pet, a pet can be a great listener and companion for a teen. By caring for a pet they learn responsibility and by patting a pet it releases feel good endorphins. Walking a dog can encourage your child to get outdoors and get exercise which again increases those feel good hormones
- if you are worried it is ok to talk to your child and ask if something is wrong, let them know you are there to listen and not to judge
- seek help if in doubt
I realise this is a long read and for many of you who don’t have teens it may seem like it is something you don’t have to worry about for a long time, but please know that the earlier you set up that trusting bond the easier it will be for your child to open up to you. It is also the perfect time for you to work on self love and positive body image. Children as young as five years old, both boys and girls are worrying about being fat! We have to be aware as parents we are their number one role model.
If you have any tips to add please do! If you have a story to share please feel free to share it in the comment section, or send me an email.
Thanks, Mac xx