Article titled ‘Winning When We Do Not Want to Play: Combating Teen Suicide’. This chapter discusses signs and symptoms of depression, as well as the current epidemic of teens thinking about or acting on thoughts of suicide.
I discuss ‘suicidal ideation’ (thinking of harming oneself by death), and begin to discuss the shortage of mental health therapists.
One of my strengths in this area is that I trust people when they tell me something.
One story, where this strength helped, was during an activity during one of my first courses in graduate school.
We were put into groups, and we were given a problem. We were encouraged to figure out what was wrong, come up with steps to solve it, and try to figure out the origin of the issue.
The story was about a boy who wasn’t listening. His parents would tell him what to do, he didn’t listen.
His teachers would tell him what to do, he still did not listen.
There was a teacher meeting together with the parents to talk about what were the supports in his life that were missing that would help him become more able to listen.
As we were brainstorming, which is a very specific task where all ideas are good, no feedback is given about the ideas, and everyone keeps coming up with ideas for a certain amount of time, I made a suggestion.
‘What if he can’t hear?
What if it isn’t that he isn’t listening, but that he cannot hear what is being said’.
In this instance, that was what was happening,
A child could not hear, and therefore was not listening.
I have talked previously about my trip to France in 1990.
We went to France and Switzerland, and were located for about 2 weeks at a camp near enough to visit Lyon, France; walk into Switzerland and get some chocolate; and to visit the Peugeot Plant.
We were there to get to know each other as people, and were all careful to state to each other that we did not represent each other’s countries.
At the time, Europe was not known as Europe as much as it was known as individual countries.
In France you paid with Francs, and in Switzerland it depended on what part of the country you were in to determine both the primary language spoken and the currency utilized.
My friend from Denmark ‘squished her food’. As we watched her, she was quick to say that smooshing all of her food together is typical in Denmark. She had a very specific reason for doing it, but I do not remember what they were.
My friend from Bath in England did not like carbonation in her coke. She was quick to say that this was not a Bath issue, and this did not represent England, but she did not like carbonation and she suggested that we all try it.
I have to admit, a flat Coke does have merit.
Two boys from France 🇫🇷 and one of the leaders (Gregoire), who was also from France, were the hardest for my sister and me to understand.
At that time, some people in France were resistant to learning English.
As our friends pointed out, they still spoke English better than we spoke French (my sister and me), but they had an accent that was hard for us to understand.
Those two weeks of learning to communicate, learning about each other, and experiencing the local culture, had a very strong affect on me and my approach to learning about and interacting with others.
If my go-to is to believe someone, then all of the problem solving we do, based on the facts as they are presented, are not me trying to prove that the person who told me the misrepresentation of truth is lying.
My feeling is, we all have different interpretations of the truth, so if your truth is that you were hurt, then lets go with that and work to help you feel less pain.
As people in your life tell you things that you know are not factually true (I call them bad reporters, or say they have ‘bad facts’), think about the payoff.
What is it about telling this misrepresentations of the truth, or facts, that is helping them gain something?
How are we promoting this by giving a response or feedback?
What can each of us do to help know the difference between ‘this is not your business’, which happens on occasion, and ‘I am misleading you in some intentional way’, which also happens with a good amount of frequency.
If your strength is pointing out misrepresentations of facts, what population does that work for helping with ?
I am best with teens/pre-teens. They tell me something that is not accurate and my response is ‘huh-that seems hard to believe’.
I do not disbelieve them, but I do point out the reasons that make their statement hard to believe.
I am second best with building people up who have not treated themselves with the respect that I would like them to.
How do you think about groups of people , whether that be people who speak a different language than you do, people who are developmentally an adolescent, or whether they are people who have lived for many years, who you connect with?
How can you use those connections to help their connections?
When my kids were about 12, I was in a meeting with a woman with adult children.
She said something wise, which has stuck with me since then and proven true time and time again.
Backing up a little, that day I was at a meeting with providers (which means people who work as professionals with families) discussing how to help encourage a family with a teenager to provide a safe environment where the child could either continue to live or that they could return back to living.
At the time, I was providing Home Based Therapy in Marion County, Indiana.
My role as a therapist was to work with the children and adults in a family to help the adults provide a safe, stable environment to the teens or children which had not been provided one at some point.
The families in this program had experience abused or neglect in some way.
Her words of wisdom went something like this:
‘Toddlers and Teen are just the same. A two year old and a four year old are bursting with the independence that they are trying to obtain. We expect it, and we allow for it.
They are small people, so they can be relatively easy to contain in general.
Teenagers are bigger versions. A 12 year old is like a 2 year old, and a 14 year old is like a 4 year old.
They are much bigger in size, are not nearly as easy to control physically, and are also generally bursting with ideas for their own independence as well’
One of my favorite things about this supervisor was her ability to get her team to provide quality work.
At that time, I was providing direct service (therapy) for 18 months, which was a break from supervising staff. I have supervised staff for the majority of my career, so this experience allowed me to learn from her a little differently than if we were peers.
She supervised her staff in a way which encouraged reliability, communication, and caring for the families they worked with.
She supervised people who worked for the Department of Child Services, which is a very difficult role to be in.
We know that anyone who has gone through their adolescent years, or early twenties, or whenever we ‘broke’ away from our parents in some ways, that it is part of adolescence.
Adolescents have the job of establishing independence. They are more interesting in their peers and their friends, developmentally. Their parents are trying to advise and guide them to making safe decisions.
One of the norms that i have noticed changing a bit in the last few years is about perceived safety and how do we deal with teens and those computers in their hands.
When I was a teen, back in the 80’s, I had some pretty emphatic boundaries. My parents were stricter than many of my friends’ parents in some ways, so if I went on a date in high school we stayed in Tipton.
Keeping my location local helped my parents with a sense of safety, while also extremely limiting our movie and dinner options.
We had one movie theatre with one screen, and a few places to eat but not many of them involved sitting down and ordering.
We were beginning to learn about typing on computers at school, but personal computers would come out a few years later.
How does this apply to you?
Think about how you parent your child, particularly if they are a teen.
I was able to hear Dawn Crossman speak on Saturday at an event called ‘SHIFT’, which was put on by the Peyton Reikoff Foundation.
She discussed some things about parenting intense teens that I have found in my experiences as well.
As teens work to establish that sense of self and figure out who they are, we need to protect them when we can and allow some mistakes, just like we do with our 2 and 4 year olds.
If a two year old is still struggling to walk well, we don’t tell them to stop walking.
We encourage them to figure out how to walk better through those falls where they plop down. I love to watch early walkers run, and just lead with those giant heads.
The same is true for 12 year olds and 14 year olds.
Let them make mistakes they can learn from, while staying aware of their own tendency to, as my husband coined ‘run with the bad ideas’.
He was talking with my son at dinner one night at during those pre-teens years and mentioned ‘you get a ‘bad’ idea, you think it is good, and then you run with it. You just run faster and faster with the idea’.
I tend to avoid using the terms good and bad, but think about this how it relates to you.
My son loves people, loves to have fun, and loves to spend time with friends. We worked, in high school, to encourage him to complete his home work at a pace possibly slower than 100 mph, but we did not monitor it.
Having academically strong children comes with its own sets of perks and balances, and for us one reality was that we never monitored their homework closely.
We did look at their power school, or the school website where grades were listed, and my guess is this conversation either had something to do with hanging out with friends longer than allowed him to have sleep, or it had something to do with turning in an assignment he had missed.
Either way, the example was used that day, and for years to come. Eventually it got shortened to ‘just keep running! Keep running with those ideas’, with a smile and some arm motions imitating running.
As we parent our children, we want to establish a sense of trust when we can.
We want to hold our children, pre-teens, and teens accountable to help motivate them to make decisions that will ultimately help them grow into accountable adults who are productive citizens.
Making it work:
Think about who you want to motivate, who might be acting like a temper tantruming toddler.
How do you encourage them, as they are demonstrating that independence so willfully, to continue to be persistent in ways that help them and to give-in in ways that are holding them back?
I encourage you to think of a way to use that accountability and knowledge of their developmental age as you make rules, consequences, and motivate those in your care.
I hope you enjoy your weekend! Basketball is everywhere if you enjoy watching it.