I am sending love to all of the parents of teenagers. It is a scary time to be a teenager and a scarier time to be a parent. As a parent and a therapist it is really hard to watch children suffer. My instinct is to stomp out whatever is bothering them and protect them. Suffering is an innate part of life and we can’t protect our children from it, I have tried, we can’t and your not going to like this, but we shouldn’t protect them. As parents and providers we must help them get back up after they fall, encourage them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Help them learn to come back after setbacks and disappointments. This is what we call grit or resilience. The ability to bounce back after sadness and disappointment. Recently there has been so much sadness and disappointment with the loss of our youth through suicide. I know I can’t protect my children and the children I work with. I hope to inoculate them, increase their immunity to the factors that can cause them harm. So here are some tried and true techniques I have gathered over my time as a mother, crisis therapist and have used with success:
- Touch or Connectedness: They will fight you, but they need hugged or patted on the back. As Human beings touch is the first sense we acquire, we are social by nature and touch is one way to show your children your here and you love them. It can be a pat on the back, a hug, shoulder rub or even standing shoulder to shoulder. When you touch your child in a loving and appropriate way their oxytocin level goes up and their blood pressure goes down. Remember all humans need to be touched a minimum of twelve times a day. It is a simple and effective way to show your love and it affect you positively as well. Hug your child.
- Limit the electronics. I know. Life is so much harder when they don’t have them. Here is why: our brains increase our dopamine levels when we use our electronics. Increased dopamine can increase addiction, I can get into the science, but that is another blog. Trust me try it. If they are on them they are not connecting to you or the outside world. 2 hours at home is more than enough period, please don’t hate me.
- Socialize: Join a team, Youth Group or other structured activities if possible. Something that allows your children to begin to socialize with you and with out you it allows for other adults to care about your children. Coaches, Youth Pastors etc. these days it truly takes a village.
- Schedule a regular time that you can talk to them. One mom I work with plays Uno with her son when he gets home and that is there regular time to connect. I get up with the kids and play Horse basketball. Yes, I suck, but my boys love it when they beat me. A simple drive in the car will get them talking. It doesn’t have to be heavy stuff, just connect with them. I have coffee or breakfast talk with my daughter. Just make it work. Shoot for 10 minutes a day per child. Family meals can help, electronics off, sorry. It can fluctuate, but make sure your checking in with them daily.
- 4-1 Ratio This one can be hard. Ours kids mirror what you tell them. So make sure your telling them positive things. For every critical thing you say to them try to say four positive things. Most parents think so much of their children and forget to share it or don’t think it important, it is. Try to catch them doing good and reinforce it.
- Teach them about resilience and reinforce it when ever you see it. Let them know how many times you failed or Thomas Edison failed before success. Failure, heartbreak , bruised emotions can all be turned into success if they learn to recognize resilience and grit and develop it as a life skill. Remember all these extreme emotions will pass, make sure they know that too.
- Support Each Other: A friend of mine lost her oldest son to suicide. This mom is the room mom, the crafty mom, the fun hands on mom. If it can happen to this family, none of us are immune, but we can try. This mom has made it her mission to improve things in her son’s name and I want to support her and all the families and friends suffering to the best of my ability. Raising happy, healthy children is not an easy job and there is more than one way to do it right.
A word of caution: Teenagers are highly impulsive by nature, they are in need of a lot of attention. Try to make sure that attention your giving them is positive. Remember that adolescence is temporary and it will pass . Use your teachers and mental health personnel as resources. Sending love to all of my local community and anyone dealing with these issues. Reach out if you need help, we all lose when we lose someone through suicide.