So over the past few days, there have been an alarming number of posts circulating on my social media. Posts I never want to see. Posts I can’t help but read with tears in my eyes. Posts that make me wonder. Posts that make me want to take action.
Bullying is happening everywhere. In children of all ages, in every city; public or private school. Parents are at a loss. School administration is at a loss. You want to protect your children with every fiber of your being but how can you protect them from words? Or from the anonymous internet? How do you protect them from the thoughts in their heads, planted by the evil seeds of a bully’s words? How do we, as a community make school safe again? How do we make it safe for them to post their accomplishments, and talk to their friends on social media?
I will tell you where it starts. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, and in turn, we do this with our children. If your friends’ child is walking before yours, you feel like your child is behind. This is the very beginning of teaching them that ‘different’ is wrong. We have got to stop using other children as the “norm” that our child has to match standards to, even as babies. Ask your doctor if you’re concerned, but kids learn and grow at their own rates and every child is different. We need to make sure we are aware from early on not to point out differences because it can have a devastating effect on their future.
Make sure you allow your kids to make their own observations as they grow, and don’t push your opinions on them. When they ask you questions about people they see out in life make sure you pay very careful attention to what you say. Don’t let your own biases influence your children. Maybe if we teach them that being “different” is what brings us together, versus what makes us separate they will see differences in a positive light instead of a negative one. Maybe if we stop the biases that were passed down to us from passing on to our children, we can end them completely.
Ok, beyond parenting advice, which I am no expert on, let’s face facts. The fact is that each day in our nation there are an average of 5,240 attempts of suicide by children in 7-12th grade.* 5,240!! Now, if this isn’t alarming to you, I don’t know what would be. That’s potentially 5,240 doctors, nurses, researchers, Presidents, teachers that feel so alone they think that their only option is suicide. And even worse, 4 out of 5 of those teens showed clear warning signs.* That is a huge wake-up call for me. That tells me that parents just don’t know the signs. So I am going to share them with you.
- First is to always take threats seriously. This means joking about suicide, and even if they are texting to their friends. Take them seriously.
- Pay attention to their behavior. Are they acting more irritable, seem more down, acting out of character? Are they suddenly disinterested with activities? These are all signs of depression, which is a huge red flag.
- Are they suddenly obsessed with death? Researching it, drawing it, writing about it?
- Some kids, when they have made the decision to commit suicide will begin prepping for it. Giving away possessions, saying goodbye to family members or friends.
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs. This may be something you don’t immediately recognize. You would like to think your child would never do drugs, but unfortunately, a lot of them will. They are trying to find an escape for the pain they are feeling. Anything to numb it.
- If they self-harm in ANY way. This is cutting, not eating, and anything else that could hurt them. This is another one I don’t think parents see easily. If they are wearing long pants, long sleeve shirts in the summer, there is something wrong. Something they are trying to hide.
These aren’t all of the signs, of course, every child is different. The point is to make sure you open your eyes and pay attention. Don’t turn a blind eye to something that could just be normal kid stuff if it doesn’t feel right. You are their parent, you know their habits, so when something is off, make sure you take an interest. I know it is hard to ever think that your child is depressed or being bullied but you have to open your eyes. You cannot sit and read these news stories and think, “that will never be my child.”
YOU are your child’s only advocate in this cruel, unforgiving world. So it is important that you fight for their right to be happy, and feel safe in places that are meant to be safe! Join in on every parent/teacher conference, every school board meeting, anything that could possibly give you a platform to not only learn things but also let the school and other parents in on the information you know. Find groups on Facebook, join in on efforts to end youth suicide and to end bullying. Do your research. Learn everything you can. Soak up information like a sponge and use it to help your child have a happy life. Find out about programs they can join, introduce them to the school counselor and most of all make sure they do not feel like they are alone. Make resources of all sorts available to them early on, and make sure they are educated and know they have them and can use them without being judged, or shown disappointment.
Be proactive, if you notice any of these signs as mentioned above, or that your child just isn’t acting normal to you–GET HELP! I know there are soooo many people out there with this negative stigma on therapy, and psychiatrists/psychologists and that needs to change. These people are put in place to help your child in a way you just can’t. And medication if necessary, is NOT A BAD THING. Firstly, it doesn’t mean they will need it forever. Most people with a combination of medication and therapy are able to learn coping mechanisms and are able to live a long, happy life without medication. Second, if there is a tool out there that could possibly make your child’s life happier, and easier for them why wouldn’t you want to use it? Medication can be so helpful in rebalancing the chemicals in the brain that set off depression, or anxiety.
I think there is a common misconception about anti-depressants and what they do. Anti-depressants are also known as SSRI’s which stands for Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These medications ease depression by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that carry signals between brain cells. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available. So they aren’t made to get your child “high” or make them a zombie. Also, you won’t see results right away. These medications need time to build up in the system in order for them to work. I know a lot of people on anti-depressants don’t know this and end up stopping the medication because they don’t feel better immediately.
Please remember, we are our children’s only advocates, so it is up to us to keep them safe from harm, and from being harmful. I don’t have all of the answers, no one does.
But I would like to get a conversation started. So comment on this post, share it with your friends, and let’s try to figure out the answers together.
*Numbers were obtained from: http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/