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Signs of Suicide in Your Teen, Part 1

Watch any episode of a classic family TV shows from the 50s—Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or The Donna Reed show—and there’s one thing you will not hear teens Wally, Bud, Jeff or Mary talking about: suicide.

Fast forward to 2016 and today, most teens not only talk about suicide—they can tell you exactly how they would do it. Thanks to Google, they have plenty of tutorials on how to take their own life. There are even websites that put forth a suicide or “self-euthanasia” worldview. One site even encourages people to “do their part”—complete with instructions—in reducing the world’s population.

It gets even more disturbing. Teens that are considering suicide are often encouraged by their peers to go beyond the contemplation stage and “just do it.” And “doing it” they are. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death in the 15- to 24-year-old age range. It’s more common among boys. Male adolescents commit suicide five times more than females, though females are three times more likely to attempt suicide.

Gone Too Soon

For Gerard Long, the president of the ministry, Alpha USA, this statistic became highly personal when his 17-year-old son, Alex, hanged himself on a beach after being given one dose of a recreational drug. Like most parents of teen suicide victims, Gerard and his wife, Jeannie, didn’t see it coming. Up until a week before his death, Alex had been a good student, an outstanding athlete and a seemingly happy teen. But it’s what his parents didn’t know that would come back to haunt them. He shared his story when I interviewed him sometime after.

The day that Alex killed himself, he was home all day with his mom, who stayed close by his side—monitoring him. The drug his “friend” had given him had a particular insidious effect on their sensitive son. His rational thinking was skewed and his emotional equilibrium was clearly off kilter. After Alex had confessed to his parents about his foolish mistake, they kept a watchful eye on him. On Gerard’s part, he had prayed with his son for an hour that morning before he left for work. That night, when his father returned home, Alex greeted his father warmly, even quoting Psalm 103:1-5—a psalm he had memorized.

So to his parents, Alex seemed to be on the mend. Still, when Alex asked his mom if he could “go for a ride in the car” she said, “No.” Given his still questionable mental state, Jeannie didn’t think it was safe. But Alex snuck out anyway. When the police finally found his body hours later, Jeannie became hysterical with grief. It took her two years to stop blaming God, and her husband, for her son’s death.

When I asked Gerard during that first interview, what he would have done differently to try and prevent what happened, he said: “I would learn as much as could about signs of suicide and I would be more direct and decisive when I saw some of those troubling signs.”

In Gerard Long’s case, his son didn’t suffer from depression—he just happened to have had a very bad reaction to a street drug. One dose was enough to send him into a depressed, suicidal state. For most teens, it takes more than one dose of a drug to send them into a downward spiral. It’s usually a cumulative effect. Studies show that at least 90 percent of teens who kill themselves have some type of chronic mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, or a behavior problem.

So, what are the signs of possible suicide in your teen and what can be done about it? It’s a good question—and an important one. Not taking the time to study these signs could be deadly. As Gerard says, “Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you… it can happen to anyone.”

DANGER SIGNS IN YOUR TEEN

  • Withdrawal from social activities, as well as friends and family.
  • Giving possessions away
  • Increased sadness and hopelessness
  • Obsession about death, including talking about it. For example, after someone dies, a teen might talk about who he would like to come to his memorial service if he ever passed away. He may also watch films or listen to music that is centered on death.
  • Engagement in risk-taking behaviors—what might be called a “death wish”
  • Bullied at school
  • Changes in eating or sleeping behavior—especially eating less and sleeping more
  • A lack of concentration—unable to focus

If your child is manifesting several of these signs, or he begins to actually threaten suicide, then it’s time to ramp up the prevention strategy. He will need to be constantly monitored. Hide all prescription drugs and eliminate any access to guns. Take all suicide threats seriously—it’s your teen’s cry for help and you need to heed it. At Heartlight, if a teen says, “I want to die” then we take him to the hospital for observation.

If your teen is chronically depressed and it’s serious enough where it’s causing suicidal behaviors to manifest, then consider a short-term solution, like anti-depressants. Sometimes this regime is necessary if there’s a chemical imbalance. Still, it’s a decision that you need to make wisely and prayerfully as some anti-depressants can be worse than the condition they’re supposed to cure. Do the research. Even “safe” drugs can be toxic. It all depends on the particular chemical make up of your teen.

Whatever extra measures you need to take to keep your teen safe, be encouraged— teen depression is not a life sentence. According to a 2014 study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, around half of teens who experience brief episodes of depression or anxiety do not go on to have a mental illness in adulthood.

You can increase those odds with good parenting, including lots of love, prayer and vigilance. As Gerard Long said, “Be direct and decisive.” This means knowing what your teen is doing at all times. Don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure (“bad company corrupts good character”) or other external influential factors like the Internet and TV. Do these things, and chances are good that you’ll be helping your teen over a temporary “hump” in his volatile teenage life—after which you can both breathe a huge collective sigh of relief.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 

 


Modeling Kindness in an Unkind World

Our world is confusing place for kids.  Nearly every day, our sons and daughters are confronted by some form of bullying, disrespect and a complete disregard for authority.  These conflicting elements create an environment that makes it tough for teens to be kind.  It’s hard to be gentle and meek when you’re constantly fighting against cultural trends and peer pressure.

If you’re like me, you can still remember bad stuff that happened from your teen years.  I was bullied by a group of guys, and whenever the projector of my memory rolls the film on those ugly encounters, I still get emotionally wrapped up with anger.

As a parent, you might be the only authority in your child’s life to model how to engage in kindness.

Good parenting requires weaning our kids away from their childish dependence on us.  It’s a long process of gradually taking away the creature comforts we once provided in order to force our teen to begin operating independently from us.  Whether it’s drawing boundaries for them or coming to their rescue when something goes wrong, as they grow older, we need to employ an intentional plan for creating autonomy.

But when it comes to bullying, we need to take an active role of both protecting our teens and helping them understand the power of kindness and respect.

People in today’s society respond differently to failure than people have in previous generations.  One reason is because we have greater access to information now than ever before.  Technological advancement can be a good thing, but in this regard, it tends to be used for bad things.  When someone fails, whether that’s a friend, a politician, an actor, or someone else, failure is instantaneously broadcasted over the World Wide Web.  Any misstep, miscue, or hiccup can go viral in just a matter of seconds.  Facebook alone allows for one negative comment to be shared with pretty much everyone in your social circle.  This can be devastating for teens, and can cause them to lash out in a similar manner.

The benefit of these methods of communication, though, is that the same can happen with positive comments.  As parents, we have the power to teach our teens how to show kindness in all of their interactions – both online and in person.  The best place to start with this is in our home.  Mom, dad, are you treating one another with love and respect?  How are you showing kindness to the neighbors and others in your community?  How are you treating your kids when they come home from school?

When your teen comes home from school and lashes out at you, it’s generally not disrespect.  It’s spillover from their awful day because our kids don’t have a coping mechanism for what they experience on campus.  When they show frustration, the best way to respond is with respect.  Instead of shooting them down and correcting their actions, ask them to put words to their feelings.  The biggest mistake we can make as a parent is to somehow telegraph to our teen some form of shame for the way they feel.  We cannot change their feelings.  Feelings are feelings.

If your teen rolls his eyes at you, ask him if you did something that caused frustration.  Start a dialogue.  Find out what motivated your child to do something disrespectful, and in doing so, you will accomplish two things.  First, you will identify the root of the frustration, and second, you will model how to deal with conflict and frustration.

This doesn’t mean you are okay with your child showing you disrespect.  I’m not saying you need to become a doormat for your child’s vitriol.  I’m suggesting that you take a deep breath and try to drill down to the root of the problem without letting your own emotions escalate to a point where you cannot have a meaningful exchange with your child.

By showing genuine interest in the cause of their angst, you are surprising your teen with kindness and modeling how to have an adult conversation.  Teens won’t expect you to move closer to them when they act disrespectful to you.  They will expect your relationship to weaken.  But when you engage them in relationship by talking calmly with them, you continue the opportunities to teach them kindness by showing them kindness.

Be prepared.  When your teen finally opens up to you in a safe place, it won’t be easy to hear.  Parenting teens is rarely a tidy process and usually a messy one.

If they blew up and showed disrespect to you, all that pent up emotion came from somewhere.  When you successfully open up the lines of communication, your teen will take advantage of that open door in the future and they will begin to put words to their frustration.  Once they get these emotions off their chest, you can objectively talk about the root cause of their disrespect, and this gives you an occasion to describe appropriate ways to show their feelings to you.

On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, we’ll talk with Sam and Melody.  Sam’s experience with bullying throughout high school and middle school followed him as he moved from school to school many times.  Melody works at Heartlight, a residential treatment program, and she’s helped numerous teens work through their experience with bullying.  Melody will help us understand how to engage with our teens when they are angry and inconsolable, in order to model kindness and respect with our kids.

Remember, raising a child who is gentle and kind doesn’t mean we are creating a generation of wimps.  Real men show respect.  Real women are kind.  And a mature teen should never be the recipient, nor the perpetrator, of bullying.

Our teens are heavily influenced by the culture that surrounds them every day.  As parents, we have the golden opportunity to build a culture of kindness and respect in our home that will serve our teens for years to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

 


Your Teen’s Need to Fit In

Your Teen’s Need to Fit InDo you recall some stupid things you did as a teenager? I do, and I’m sure you do, too. I guess that’s why many of us parents work overtime to help our teenagers avoid such embarrassment. But unfortunately, these life lessons cannot be learned any other way. Experiencing and becoming embarrassed by our own immaturity can do far more to help us reach maturity than anything else.

For many teenagers, the need to fit in can lead them to do some of the most immature things they’ll ever do in their entire life. They’ll mimic dress, language, musical preferences, attitudes and even the high-risk activities of their peers just to fit in.

It can be highly confusing and shocking for parents because of the sudden changes in their child’s appearance and demeanor. Overnight it may appear that their child is forsaking everything they’ve ever been taught.

It is natural then for parents to seek ways to protect their child from these “bad influences.” They may go about pulling their teen out of that crowd, out of that school or out of that church. Or, they may even consider moving the entire family to a new town.

If your teen is being influenced to head down the wrong path, be sure to seek wise counsel and take care to look for any hidden reasons for the change. Could there be deeper psychological or medical issues, or underlying abuse, bullying, or a loss that could be causing this behavior? Could drugs be involved? Or, could the child not be getting enough acceptance at home, so they seek it elsewhere?

If the odd behavior is simply your teen trying to fit in, then don’t overreact. Most teens are not actually being rebellious and it’s best not to label them that way. They are just in a healthy pursuit of independence and personal validation. Inappropriate dress, talking back, or other disrespectful or unlawful behavior is never acceptable and should be corrected, but don’t think your teen has “gone bad” just because he or she is making efforts to fit in.

As your teen gets older, I have found that it is best to mostly stand on the sidelines of the maturing game and offer wise coaching when the time is right. Stand your ground in regard to your household rules, but let your teen’s own choices, good or bad, be their teacher. Some day they’ll look back and realize that the group they were hanging with were totally immature. They’ll realize that they, too, looked like a dork, sounded like an idiot, and acted like a jerk when they were with that crowd.

We parents need to learn to “let go” when kids get into the upper teens. Don’t worry, their good and bad choices will eventually validate the concepts and values that we’ve taught them all along. It may be hard to watch it happening, but with a little exposure to some hardship resulting from bad decisions, your teen will learn how to apply the moral and ethical principles you’ve taught them, and will mature because they “see a need for it.”

So, if your teen is older and you’ve taught them good principles their entire life, put away your fix-it kit, hide the training wheels, and pray that God will bring about good influences and teach important lessons in your child’s life through every decision they make. Most of all, don’t force your teen to choose between fitting in at home versus only fitting in outside your home. There should never be a question that they fit in at home and are unconditionally loved by their family.

About the Author

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.