Speaking to Your Teen About Suicide

July 3, 2018

The recent media reports of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides have evoked many feelings.  These can include of grief, frustration, sadness, and confusion.  Often our feelings and reactions are mixed, complex, and layered.

If you’re a parent and have heard the news of a publicized suicide, chances are your teen has also heard the news.  Teens will have their own unique feelings and reactions. With less experience than adults in receiving and processing distressing news, teens are uniquely positioned to be helped by an informed and responsive parent.

Starting a conversation with your teen after a high-profile suicide in the media is a key opportunity.  Though you don’t have to wait for some tragic news to have this important conversation, these unfortunate events provide a special opportunity to create something meaningful and life-affirming from a loss. In doing so we may pay tribute to the deceased.

Talking To Teens About Suicide

It’s a common misconception that asking about suicidal thoughts will somehow plant these thoughts.  This leads many parents to avoid this topic.

It is important for parents to know that no evidence suggests that appropriately asking about suicidal thoughts will increase the risk of developing suicidal thoughts.

Checking in with your teen provides knowledge that may inform the creation of an appropriate plan of help.  Checking in shows that you are available to your teen on these matters in the future.  By openly discussing your own emotional reactions and showing that you feel comfortable with these feelings, your teen can internalize this function and employ it if needed.

As most parents know, many teens push their parents away when trying to have even mundane conversations, let alone important ones. This is a normal developmental process as teens struggle to find a healthy independence and separateness from their parents. Often teens project a false sense of independence to protect themselves from needing their parents too much.  It is easy for parents to feel rejected and to believe that their teen wants space and distance.  This dance between parent and teen can make it difficult for parents to check in with their teenage children.

In the case of these recent suicides, teens may minimize their importance, or they may devalue attempts to reach out to them. If you can bear this reaction without personal hurt and show your consistent presence to them and openness, this can show your teen you are available to discuss tough issues and to provide help and support should these concerns ever become a personal reality for your teen.

Here are some tips about how to start a conversation with your teen on this difficult topic:

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