How to Talk To Your Teen About Teen Mental Health and Suicide

This past weekend, I was at the Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschool Conference.  One of the most important sessions I attended was about teens and mental health, and I wanted to pass along some of the wonderful work the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is doing for teen mental health and suicide prevention.

One of the big take-aways from this session is that we should be having layered conversations not only about mental health with our children and teens, especially by age 13 and onward, but also specifically we should be talking about suicide.  The suicide rate for American teens (2016 statistics) was 6,159 reported deaths by suicide for youth ages 10-24.

It is the SECOND leading cause of death for teens!

If the second leading cause of death was due to lack of seat belt use or eating tomatoes or whatever, we would be talking about it.

But because it is suicide, we don’t talk about it.

There is a very steep incline in terms of suicide death between the ages of 10 to ages 14-16 (meaning it is very rare to have a death from suicide at age 10, but then the curve of number of deaths by suicide by age goes up very sharply).  Suicide cuts across all ethnic groups.  No one is immune.  Every person in my session had been touched by suicide in some way.

Girls attempt suicide more than boys, but boys are more successful in succeeding and killing themselves, and for every death by suicide 100-200 teens make an attempt.  Up to 17 percent of teens have reported attempting suicide in the last year and 8.6 percent attempted suicide more than once.  It is not “attention seeking,” as some onlookers ask – it is often a feeling of wanting to disappear and not be a burden.  It is complete hopelessness.

Risk factors include:

  • Health factors:  undiagnosed or underdiagnosed mental health disease
  • Pyschological risk factor such as perfectionism/very black and white thinking (which is normal but should move past black and white thinking in upper adolescence)/perfectionism
  • Past history of abuse/brain injury/Suicide in family.
  •  Life events can be a trigger but not the only thing.

Warning signs include changes in behavior for your teen, withdrawing, isolating, agitation or being easily angered, increased anxiety, changes in sleep or appetite, expression of suicidal thoughts, giving possessions away. Usually the person feels hopeless with no reason to live, feels as if they are a burden to others, feels trapped and in unbearable pain.  Hopelessness is a major feature.  Humiliation can be another risk factor/warning sign for suicide in teens, when teens often feel as if everything they do is in a fishbowl of everyone looking at them.

Protective factors against death by suicide include feeling connected, regular health care and mental health care, learning and using coping strategies, and being willing to seek help.

You can acknowledge your teen’s changed behavior, and you can say you have noticed that they seem to be dealing with a lot and that sometimes people who are dealing with a lot may think about killing themselves.  It does NOT increase suicide if you talk about it, or directly ask about it. It may provide some relief to the teenager, and you can also then know the teen’s ideas or possible intentions and reassure them that they are not alone and that help is available and GET THEM  HELP.

At this point, not only is immediate mental health contact needed along with the immediate reduction of what is stressing the teen, but also TAKE the step to secure any item that could be used lethally – unload and dissassemble firearms that might be in the home and LOCK them away, take any old prescription medicine hanging around and get rid of it, etc.  You can call 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741-741  in the United States for help.  Do NOT leave your child alone!

Here are some of the free resources mentioned in this session so  you can keep having these conversations  with your teens.  There is an Ad Council campaign and series of You Tube videos called #seizetheawkward.  It was done by a number of actors/You Tube stars and while the  ad campaign may seem edgy to you,  in group testing these were the only ads that got the teens’ attention to watch.  It is aimed for 16-24 year olds.  Here is one of the Ad Council videos to get you started, but there are number of them you can watch with your teens and get those conversations rolling. #seizetheawkward

Resources:

1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741 741

The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention  (there are chapters in all 50 states in the United States)

More Than Sad is the program developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Just like talking about healthy relationships, about sex, about drugs and drinking, let’s keep talking to our teens about mental health, suicide risk, and coping strategies.

Blessings,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

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Three Steps in Dealing With Challenging Behavior

There probably have been complaints about children and teen’s behavior as far back in time as one can imagine!   In light of behavior that is less than desirable and is repeating, I think there are three main steps to take as a parent in dealing with this behavior head-on:

  1.  Ask yourself if this is normal behavior for this age?   Many parents have expectations that are far beyond their child’s age and need to be reassured this is part of childhood maturation.  We are losing perspective on this in American society rapidly.
  2. If it is normal behavior for the age, but it is still making the family full of tension, ask yourself how you will guide it with boundaries so your family can live in harmony? 

a.  For a young children under the age of 7, guide with the principles of rhythm carrying things (lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, etc doesn’t help any behavioral situation!), songs and pictorial speech to move things along, and the child making reasonable restitution for what isn’t going well.  If you determine things aren’t going well due to a lot of stress and hurriedness in the family, try to decrease the amount of stress. Look carefully and listen to what the child in front of you  is telling you, but do balance that with the needs of the family.

b.  For the child ages 9-13, guide with the ideas of rhythm and restitution in mind, and rules of your family and of life in general – how do we treat each other in kindness; how do we treat ourselves and others.  Listen carefully to what your child is saying, but also state the expectations and boundaries firmly and kindly.   Go in with the idea that these things will need to be worked on 500 times or more to stick.  If things in the family are super stressful for varying reasons, consider simplifying and also adding in techniques for dealing with stress for the whole family.

c.  If the child is 14-18, guide with the ideas of family rules in mind, and consequences and restitution.  A teen can vacillate widely from seeming very mature to seeming very young and immature, and it is important to remember that the teenaged brain is not yet fully developed.  You must still be there to guide, and you are not at the “friend” stage of parenting.   Teenagers still want boundaries, limits, and a guide.

3.  If the behavior is not normal for the age...

a.  Is it quirky  behavior and being exacerbated by stress and hurriedness? Simplify things and see if things improve.

b. Is it truly not appropriate behavior and not responding to anything you do?  Then you may need professional help  through family therapy or other behavioral intervention.

c. If you are a homeschooling family, do not assume that going to school will make things better.  I think kids who are having problems at home often will have problems at school unless the family is so chaotic they will function better in a more structured environment. But if the child themselves is really  having problems stemming from themselves, they will have problems across environments.

Just a few thoughts,
Carrie

 

Friendships: Part Three: Ages 14-15

This is the last part of our series on friendships from ages ten to fifteen.  Today, we are jumping into looking at the fourteen-year-old ( which is often a much better time than being thirteen and hiding in one’s room) and the fifteen-year old.

It can be really important to some fourteen-year-olds to really belong to a group, but some may need help untangling and being untangled from a group.  This is the age where the girls especially really want to fit in to some elusive and sometimes exclusive group.  She may pick friends or even a best friend that she has no shared interests with, and not a lot of connection even,  but just feels that person is  for whatever reason now her good friend.  She may try to join into a group or clique just to be a part of it without really having a great connection to those people.  Criticism or discussion of different friends begins in earnest this year, noticing the differences or social problems of varying friends or people at school. However, fourteen-year-olds are generally better about talking about things that have gone badly between them and a friend and trying to restore the friendship rather than the thirteen-year-old who just lets the friendship drift away.

Boys often have a bit of any easier time. They still may hang around in a gang; they may or may not have a “best” friend and they may or may not care at all about that.  They do choose friends that they like rather than shared activities.  Often they still hang out with neighborhood friends, whereas girls may be done with that around this age.   Some fourteen-year-old boys still don’t have many friends, or only one friend they really like, and that is certainly okay as well.

What  you can do to help: Girls in particular often want to feel “accepted”  and hence start looking to their own place to belong away from their family.  I think based on the family as the first and most important unit of socialization, it could be important to let teenagers know that  siblings can be close friends, and that the family is such an important thing outside of friendship.

Talk about cliques and groups.  Talk about conflict mediation and conflict resolution.  Talk about how being an individual, and about diversifying friends and encouraging friendships outside of the clique with a different group.  Talk about bullying and social exclusion if you think that is going on, and how and why to be an includer if your child has a temperament that lends itself to that.  This article talks about dealing with cliques   and this article has 8 tips for dealing wtih cliques.

Fifteen-year-olds often have less emphasis on cliques, although many are still influenced by their friends in regards to clothing choice, music, etc.  Some fifteen-year-olds (and this is where your boundaries as parents are important!) may be pairing off into romantic relationships that are occupying more of their time than their friends.  A deeper capacity for caring and sharing may exist than before. Mature friends can accept differences between one another and can maintain closeness despite separation or time. They also can juggle several close friends and no one feels threated by that. I feel this often comes AFTER the fifteen/sixteen change.   Right before this change, I think there can often be a big shake-up in friends – teachers have noticed that for years the fifteen year old year (what is typically sophomore year in American high schools), often sees their students have a big change in friends.    This can also be a time of feeling restless and lonely and depressed, which may also change after the fifteen/sixteen year change is complete.

Your fifteen-year-old may be more likely to seek out advice from friends than from you, the parent.  Therefore, part of dealing with these friendships and even romanatic relationships outside of the family is putting a priority on the family.  Family days, family traditions, are all still very, very important.  It is a source of stability that many teens can’t even really put into words, but do still value.

What you can do:   Hopefully you have many talks with your children by this point as to how to be a friend, how to mediate conflict, how to apologize, how to recognize bullying or aggression and how to cope with stresses.   You are really preparing them for what comes after this fifteen/sixteen year change and as they become more and more independent and perhaps bring less to you regarding interpersonal conflicts.   Junior and senior years of high school are really the young adult phase where you are letting go, being there,  giving that right amount of space where guidance exists.

Blessings,
Carrie

Friendships: Part Two: Ages 12-13

Back today with our friendship series for children ages 10-15.  Today we are talking about twelve and thirteen year  olds.

Twelve-year-olds often have an increased ability to separate from their parents at this age, to really say what they do or don’t want to participate in with the family, and this really extends into their friendships.  Twelve is much calmer than age eleven for the most part, although groups of twelve-year-olds can be difficult to manage for teachers and others.

Many twelve-year-olds are branching out to a larger group of friends, and most of the relationships are calm. Friendships that break apart may just sort of drift apart and away, rather than have some sort of traumatic fight.  Twelve year olds are interested in more than themselves, and may be actually intersted in how a friend feels or thinks.  Twelve year olds are better at taking responsibility for their own feelings and their own part in relationship situations that go awry.

What you can do to help:  Since twelve can be more of a harmonious time with friendships and things may just be going along with an established group of friends, I think there isn’t as much work to do in terms of individual friendships but there can be work to be done regarding what happens in groups.  Talk about bullying and exclusion, and how groups of people can put people down.  Talk about how each person in a group is an individual and how not to lump people all together. These are important conversations to have.

Thirteen year olds are often nicer away from home than at home, and can be quite serious and moody. Some thirteen-year-olds really withdraw and are not as interested in friends, which I think can be fine so long as they are not withdrawing into video games and social media.  Please think hard about giving your thirteen-year-old a phone!

Thirteen-year-olds are likely to get annoyed or irritable more than straight out angry. Some will walk out of a room instead of saying something mean; some will say the first mean and angry thing that comes to their mind. Under all of this, thirteen-year-olds are typically quite sensitive, both at home and in outside friendships.  Rather than seeing their friends as a “group,” now the thirteen-year-old often sees each friend as a separate human being that could or could not be part of a group and wonder if that person could be a close friend outside of the group.  Some girls will have a small group of two or three friends.  Thirteen-year-olds can be quite criticizing with one another.  Girls often share “deep secrets” while boys still hang around in a gang of four or five friends and don’t have the need to really confide anything too deep.

What you can do to help:  A thirteen-year-old girl may be mortified to talk about the move from friends to other intimate relationships romantic relationships) , but depending upon your child it can be  a good time to broach the subject of emotional intimacy in relationships; the idea of bullying can extend into the idea of bullying (abuse) in a romantic relationship, and how we should treat others and expect to be treated in a romanctic relationship.   This can be an important conversation for some children who you see having interest.

You can have conversations around how we treat those who are really our friends, how we repair relationships when  we feel criticized or made fun of, and the idea of different temperaments and personalities in the world and how different activities may be appealing to different friends.  I often talk to my children about how as adults we have friends who enjoy different things, and how I don’t always call the same friend to do the same thing. One friend may love the opera, one may not.  One friend may love to golf and want to go and one may not.  One may be the friend you can really tell all your deep things too, and others may not.  But, they can still all be our friends in some capacity,and it is up to us to choose do we only want the “deep dark secret” friend or do we also want a few friends based on the individuality of different people that is coming out in teens of this age.

Thirteen-year-olds do not need phones or social media. They will often use it, mainly the girls, to post pictures of themselves and perhaps their “deep dark secret friend” and often make other friends feel excluded.  Social media is not for children with immature frontal lobe development (which is all of them at this point! Trick statement). They just don’t tend to make good choices and think things through.  Talking to your children about social exclusion and social exclusion on social media is an important conversation.   Here is a good article about social exclusion  and this article about 9 Ways to Help Your Child Deal with Social Exclusion and Friendship Breakups is also a good one.

Talk to your thirteen-year-olds about how sometimes you feel really close to someone, but the friendship ends suddenly.  Talk about how to listen and how  to end frienships gracefully, and how to have more than one or two friends so if something does go awry and the friendship ends, your child will not feel as if they no longer have any friends at all.  Diversification can be important for some children at this age.   Friends often change over time, and even if your child has been friends with someone since they tiny, it may or may not work out to be a life-long friend.  And that’s okay.   Put energy into the new, not the old and teach your children that.

Blessings,
carrie

 

 

After The Fifteen/Sixteen Change

Many of you know that Waldorf Education and also in the way that I parent, I look not only at seven year cycles but the main developmental transformations of certain ages – six/seven, age nine, age twelve, age fifteen/sixteen.

Fifteen/sixteen is the one with the least amount of information out there if you Google, and yet I think it is the most dramatic developmental change of all..  You can see some of the characteristics of this change in this back post about the development of the tenth grader.  Many Waldorf teachers talk about how the fifteen/sixteen change is closer to the 9 year change (just bigger issues and challenges, I think!)

What is interesting to me is the feelings that are evoked in the parent when this transformation is done or fading away, much like when the nine year old change is fading away.  After the nine year change, the child hits ten, which is often seen as the hallmark “golden year” of childhood in Waldorf education.  I don’t think that happens after the fifteen/sixteen change for most teens.  When I talk to mothers of other sixteen and half year olds or seventeen year olds (and I have a daughter, so I am talking to other mothers with girls),  all of them say the same things:

They are guarded.  We don’t really talk that much.  We can have a long car ride and exchange only a few words.    I can feel them pulling away.  It is hard to know how to parent – how much to really input and how much to let go (by the way, I also hear this statement from mothers of boys who are about 18 – 19  if they are struggling with life changes).  

What seems to emerge after the trials of the fifteen/sixteen change is a calmer, more self-assured young person.  They don’t need to talk about everything anymore.  They are trying to handle things themselves in a more self-contained way than ever before.  They are preparing for their own life where they must stand on their own two feet.  Parents often are not sure how much to intervene or offer help at this stage.

So, with that in mind, I think it is really important for parents to:

  1.  Keep the time and space open for conversation and  connection.  Insisting on a walk together, or working together shoulder to shoulder, or that the car is a phone-free zone and we will must have conversation, or just find other places to have that time and space is important.
  2. Do insist on talking about the big things, even if you don’t get a great response.  This is a great time for coaching about risk (physical and emotional) and relationships.  Remember that this is the time when teens are at their riskiest due to the proliferation of reward receptors in the brain, so they do need to hear the messages.
  3. Do help them make great friends through emotional coaching.  At this time, you can’t make friends for them, but you can help them sort through personality types, boundaries, and patterns.  Tenth grade is often a time when one circle of friends is discarded and another circle becomes in place.  However, teens NEED good friends at this age. Good friends will help each other not take risks that are beyond stupid.  I talk to homeschoolers who often have a tight circle of good friends, which is great for this age.  However, if they only have one friend who sometimes is a good friend and sometimes is not a good friend, that can be harder and I actually would find it worrisome. While social skills are still maturing even at the ages of 17 and 18, which is something we don’t always remember,  I feel the depth of intimate relationships with family and friends can be a good indicator for how romantic relationships may go in the future, at least for girls.  Some teens need help in really being a good friend or in emotional IQ or in boundaries for relationships.  Share your experiences below; I would love to hear!
  4. Stop micromanaging. Whether or not they get their homework done in the time frame you would do it is not your problem.  Homework, getting to practice, those things are just going to have to be the test case for how to manage life.  And they won’t do it the  way you would do it.  Quit arguing and be supportive!  Being a teen is hard, hard, hard for many.  Some teens do just sail right through the later teen years, but for many THIS is the bumpiest time of life.
  5. Agree on the big rules.  Sleep, meals with the family,  media limits, getting work done comes to mind.  I find media limits to still be a thing many parents are struggling with.  Set the rules for the big issues and enforce them.  Little by little by the end of the first semester of senior year, your teen needs to start to take over even the bigger things.
  6. However, do keep track of the big things.  Some things that seem a little overwhelming to many young people I talk to include getting a driver’s permit or license (divided between the teens I talk to; some are thrilled and some are scared), job applications, college applications.
  7. Do insist on family meals, family vacations, family activities.  They may grumble and complain, but may secretly be glad!
  8. Do get some support from other parents who have children past the fifteen/sixteen change; even parents of fourteen and early fifteen year olds may not really understand where you are.  Even if it is just the smallest conversation in passing as we can longer the share the stories that are no longer ours to share, it helps to hear from parents with teens facing the same sorts of things – relationship changes, expectations for the future, etc.

Share your experiences below!

Blessings,
Carrie

Dynamic Development

Childhood development is never static and is ever unfolding. Sometimes the big joke in parenting is sort of, “Wow!  I just figured out this stage and now my child is on to something new!”

In my approach to development, I combine my ideas from when I worked as a pediatric physical therapist,  studies from The Gesell Institute, and Waldorf education’s view of the child.  Periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium routinely occur throughout development, typically with disquilibrium around the half-year marks, and pronounced differences  in development typically most dramatically noted around 3 – 3 1/2, 6/7, 9 (talked about an awful lot in Waldorf literature) ,  12 (although I don’t hear much about this one in parenting circles), and 15/16.  I think 15/16 is by far the most difficult transtition.

Parents often ask what they need to be successful throughout all these changes as their child unfolds.  In my personal opinion of working with families over the years, I  think there are four things, mainly, that help this process of helping a child grow:  having your own “stuff”  under control (ever tried living with an alcoholic parent, narcissitic parent, etc?    And not all of us have these things, but most all of us have wounds from living; just some of us own those wounds and try to make this woundedness better for ourselves and the people who love us); affectionate  love and connection to our children (and to your partner if you have one); loving boundaries;   rhythm (which is a defining hallmark of whatever your own family culture is!).  I don’t think it is is about perfection; I don’t think it is about doing everything just right.    A child growing up is also a family growing up and adults developing and changing too.

It is never too late to do these four  things.  All of us can become more self-aware and work on what our wounds and triggers are; nearly all of us can work to become more peaceful and compassionate.  It is never too late to  connect to and love your children.  Children have love languages just like adults do, but most children I know certainly perceive love in time and attention.  I read a few psychology sources that state even just 15-20 mintues of concentrated time a day is important; other sources like this Washington Post article from 2015 talk about how quality is more important than quantity, how family practices like dinners together do matter, and how teens need to spend time with their parents.   We can learn how to hold boundaries; I think I started seriously writing about boundaries back in 2008 and have written many posts on boundaries since then.  This one and  this big list of boundaries are among my favorites.   Finally, it is never too late to discover your  values as a family and prioritize those with your time (this is the beginnings of rhythm and habit!).

In this month often associated with love due to St. Valentine’s Day, let us love our children enough to help them grow in the healthiest ways possible!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

Unbusy In All The Right Ways

There is a lot of movement toward becoming “unbusy” – however when I look at many of these Facebook groups and websites, it almost becomes more about de-cluttering than it really is about picking the priorities of being unbusy or about…well, the life that happens along the way of homeschooling and parenting for many years.   To me, the material de-cluttering is actually the easy, if not time-consuming part.  The bigger question becomes, ” How does one become “unbusy” from too much life?”

This is  important  to think about because the reality is, for most people and for most homeschooling families, life does get busier the older children become (unless you have an roadschooling/wildschooling lifestyle or your children are just very introverted and don’t care about doing much).  Most older teenagers, especially, are eager to be busy.  When I talk to mothers of older teenager, they are busy. I have grown to think that in this season of life, it isn’t bad.   It just is.

The other thing to couple into this is that if you homeschool (and parent!) long-term over decades, LIFE just happens.  There may be illnesses in the family, death in the family, separation and divorce happens.  Life happens.  Sometimes there is more life than homeschooling.  It is one thing to sustain a very calm homelife for many years, but surely in fifteen to  twenty years or more of homeschooling a family  probably will hit some bumps along the way!

My very best advice for those of you with younger children is to figure out how to enjoy your days at home and of   being outside in nature with a simple rhythm but no real agenda.  Practice the art of just being in the moment.   I know the days and nights at home can sometimes feel endless, and parents sometimes rush to fill it all up.  And some of that comes from worry or fear.  Maybe you worry (just a little bit) about fitting in with mainstream society..  Maybe you worry ( just a little bit) about all the other children are starting gymnastics at 5 and cello at 4 and how will your child ever compete later on.  Maybe you worry about your child not having any friends.  Many of these things can wait. You only have the time for your children to have this protected innocence of being little  once.  The life of activities and more formal learning will come.  An d, by learning to be present in these early years, you can learn to survive the coming years of ups and downs.

For those of you on the cusp of becoming busier, my plea to you is not to have your eight to fourteen- year old carry a schedule or behaviors  like a sixteen year old.  There will be time enough to ramp things up.  We used to start things later, like sports in middle school.  We were just starting to get our feet wet in middle school, and our playing peaked in high school.  So, I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, when everyone is learning and doing things much earlier and for more sustained periods than we ever did in my years of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, but I guarantee talent and drive can still lead to  great success  in the  high school years, even if your child didn’t start something super early.

If your child is under that fifteen/sixteen change, boundaries are still really important.  Don’t let them carry the behaviors or the straining separation from the family that the 15-17 year olds carry. Those in the 8-14 range are not there yet; if they are pushing to go there try creating a community for this age instead of a bunch of friends you don’t really know.  Family is life.  The separation will happen eventually, but I still think the goal is to have the family unit be the most important unit of togetherness.  If your child’s friends can be integrated into your family fun, and your child into family life of families that you are super close to, all the better for enriching everyone’s lives.  It becomes a community, not just an outside friend.  Our older daughter’s closest friends are like this, and we so appreciate it still.

Make time for family nights, dinner together, family vacations, limits on technology, long drives and long talks.  Help siblings learn to be together.  Help children learn to be content without being constantly stimulated, entertained, or with friends. These are skills that will determine health.

Think about your priorities as your children expand outside the home.  Sometimes this  expansion happens in your neighborhood, or school, or through an activity.  Our older girls ride horses and we are pretty wrapped up with horse care.  For the most part, I enjoy this.  It is a close knit community of support and love for all of our children.  Yesterday I was outside all day during a horse show while our son played all day outside (hay bales can be a full-on day of entertainment!).   Win-win.  It is good to think about these things when your children are 8-14.  It isn’t just about what your child wants to do but also  can it be a supportive community for the whole family?

For those of you with older  high schoolers past that 15/16 change….they have their WHOLE lives ahead of them.  It doesn’t all have to happen in four years of high school.  Life is way beyond the high school years, and the late teens and early twenties I think are a hard time period where young people still need our support.   My cousin and I were talking about this just last weekend – how hard the early twenties actually were hard times and how family support, even in the form of letters back in the day, were very helpful. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a different in the life of an 18-22 year old.

In homeschooling high school, I see many homeschooling parents, including myself sometimes, feel antsy about these years.  Are we doing enough in our teaching? (We are!)  I always think that the children who are brillant in school probably would have been brillant at home too, and the children that aren’t so brillant at school probably will do better at home than they would at school.  Find the balance between the need for chill and the need for  accountablity, perhaps with you or with someone else.  Some high schoolers really need the “someone else” to rise up. That is okay.   Most of the parents I talk to talk about the long days their teenagers keep, especially those teenagers  in pursuit of colleges, and how they  boh teenagers and parents are exhausted.  You can read more about why the average American teen is exhausted and burned out here.  If this is what we are coming to as a society, I think we as parents need to rebel for the health of this future generation.  Balance is needed for our future leaders. Help your teenagers find your family priorities, and learn that give and take.

Choose to be unbusy in all the right ways.

Blessings and love,
Carrie