Living with Children: 12-year-old son thinking about suicide | TribLIVE.com
More Lifestyles

Living with Children: 12-year-old son thinking about suicide

Question: On several occasions over the last six months or so, our 12-year-old son has told us he’s been thinking about suicide. Apparently, he’s been the target of a couple of school bullies and sometimes feels like life is too much. We’ve talked to him, tried to help him express his feelings, and tried to help him figure out how to solve these problems, but do you have other suggestions? Other than these three episodes, by the way, things in his life seem to be great. He has lots of friends, is liked by his teachers, and doesn’t act generally depressed.

Answer: I have one suggestion, but first, a fact: Over the past 50 years, child and teen suicide has increased, per capita, more than 10-fold, and that may well be an underestimate. Two questions ensue:

First, what’s going on? The short answer is that post-1960s parenting leaves many young people inadequately prepared to deal with the challenging realities of life. That objective requires that parents, by and large, expect children to solve problems of their own making, say “no” to at least 99% of a child’s requests for indulgence and entitlement, enroll children in more household chores than after-school activities, and insist, from a relatively early age, upon good emotional control. That’s merely the short list.

Beginning in the 1960s, people in my field told parents that children should be allowed to express their feelings freely lest they “bottle up” their emotions and develop all manner of psychological malfunctions. The result of this atrocious advice has been children who have no governor on their feelings. To all too many of today’s kids, every feeling is a valid state, worthy of expression and deserving of attention. For proof of this, one need only understand that social media has become, for many teens, a stage upon which they perform their personal soap operas.

The second question is, what should parents do? The best advice I can give along that line is “If and when your child begins talking about suicide, even in a veiled way, make statements as opposed to asking questions.” Asking questions is likely to lead parents down one emotional rabbit hole after another.

In a situation of this sort, questions have a way of validating the child’s feelings. Despite what many therapists will advise, that is NOT the proper approach. Much better to make statements, such as: “To be honest, suicide is an inappropriate response to a problem, no matter how big the problem seems at the moment, so let’s talk about real solutions rather than dwelling on your feelings,” “The problems you are dealing with are not unusual and they certainly aren’t forever, but suicide is most definitely forever,” and “Let’s talk about solving these problems, because if you commit suicide, they will not be solved. The kids who are picking on you will simply start on someone else because the problem is them, not you.” Even, “That’s not the intelligent response to a problem, ANY problem, and you are, in fact, an intelligent person. You can tough this out. Let’s talk about how.”

The child in question does not need to be engaged in a personal pity-party that lends authenticity to his/her out-of-control emotions; but rather led to think correctly. Another way of saying this: When a child lacks a governor on his/her thinking and emotions, the child’s parents need to step in and be the governor.

It’s become cliché, but it’s truth nonetheless: The most powerful love is tough love.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website; readers may send him email; because of the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.