“Mom, what’s ‘suicide?’”
Oof. Not a question I wanted to address with my 10-year-old. Not a question any parent ever wants to address with their child. But it came up in the news last week, when a middle-schooler in Stillwater committed suicide. At this point, the details were not clear, the reasons still only hypothesized.
“Well, it’s when someone takes their own life.”
“So that boy in Stillwater killed himself?”
Teen suicide is a problem, a bigger problem every year. The CDC states that suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for children ages 10-14. So I tried to talk to my boy, to tell him that when he’s in middle school (just two years from now) and high school, life seems very immediate; the things that happen each day seem like they are the beginning and the end of everything. Because of the changes happening inside of him, his attitudes about almost everything are going to change. And sometimes it seems like there’s no other way to solve a problem.
But I tried to encourage him to remember that each day is a small drop in the bucket of his life, and he should always try to think beyond that day, that week, that month when things get hard.
I thought back to my own experiences in middle school and high school. I tried so hard to fit in, like some other kids my age. I gave in to peer pressure, I didn’t try as hard to succeed because the “cool” kids would laugh at that. I naively believed people when they would talk about the risky or dangerous things they would do, and then I would do them too, trying to fit in better. I made it through okay, but looking back? I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had trusted myself more, been more confident in my own abilities rather than looking to others for validation of my worth.
Put simply, as a tween and teen, I felt awkward, and I just wanted to fit in. Isn’t that the definition of adolescence? If only each child would understand that what they are feeling, that isolating, sometimes lonely feeling, is actually so universal.
So I encouraged my son to remember to be true to himself, to always do his best and remember that he’s working for his future. To talk to us, his parents, and know that he’s always got a safe place to fall, that we’ve always got his back and he can ask us anything. That he can talk about things that bother or confuse him, and that he should really think hard about his choices and the consequences that they hold. I let him know that we may not always like it but we’ll always be here for him.
After we were done talking, we said prayers for that boy, for his family and loved ones. For strength, for comfort, for understanding, for peace.
No, suicide is not something any parent wants to talk about with their child. But it’s definitely a discussion that needs to happen.