How do you support your teenager's guilt and shame because of her friends attempted suicide?
Well, let's talk about that today on Tips on Teens. My name is Kent Toussaint. I'm a licensed
marriage and family therapist, and I specialize in helping kids, teens, and families live
happier lives. I lead two organizations teen Therapy Center and the nonprofit 501 c three organization,
child and Teen Counseling, both here in Woodland Hills, California. Every Wednesday at noon,
I jump on the Facebook Live to answer your parenting questions. Let's answer today's in the
car. My 15 year old daughter started crying as one of the kids in her class had attempted suicide
sometime back. She told me she could feel their pain the day of, but had done nothing and now carries
the guilt of doing nothing. She told me that multiple people in her year have attempted this
and the pain she feels when she sees them or thinks of them sucks any joy she has. I asked her if
she knows what to do if she feels that someone
may hurt themselves, and she says she wouldn't know what to do if it happens again and no one wants
teachers or parents to know. I don't know what to say or do or what action I should take that would
not in turn, break her confidence. The alternative is a child could hurt themselves while all
the other children are walking around with this knowledge and silent pain. Any advice is welcome.
Thank you for your question. This is a heavy one. This is a real heavy one. It's a messy thing.
I could talk for about an hour on this, but we don't have that much time. So I'm going to scratch
the surface kind of touch on the basics, but clearly this is a deep, deep issue. The first and
foremost is to be there for your daughter. I know that kind of goes without saying, but don't
feel the need to fix anything. Don't feel the need to change anything. That's just going to put
pressure on her. Just be there. Put the arm around her shoulder, express, you understand, and
give her open space to talk about this
as much as she is willing to do. It normalize. The fear, the sadness, the guilt, the shame. Any
of us would go through this because there's a huge feeling of helplessness. And one of the big
reasons of this helplessness and this is really not spoken about because it's almost unspeakable
and we could barely even acknowledge it ourselves is this unconscious anger and resentment
toward our friends for trying to die by suicide. Stay with me on this. Let me explain what this
means. You have a friend. You're close friends, you love each other. You hang out with each other.
You have a dependency on this relationship and they have a dependency on you, especially when
you're 15. Relationships are so important. Those friendships are so important and they help
define who teenagers are. And now this friend wants to die, is pushing herself away from your
daughter, from everyone else. And in your daughter's mind, this is a possible reaction, even
though, again, it's so hard to voice to it. And this is
the voice, this is what the words are. How dare you? How dare you throw our friendship away, rob
me of this close friendship and kill yourself? How could you do that to me? Aren't I good enough?
Isn't my love, my friendship good enough? How can you do this to me? For obvious reasons, it's
really hard to give voice or awareness to that resentment and that anger. Thus comes helplessness,
thus comes guilt. And while we want to support the person who is threatening suicide, it hurts
the other people around, that person who's trying to die. It hurts your daughter. And I think
it's really important to make space for that voice. Now, she doesn't have to share this with
her friend, maybe she's sharing it with you, maybe her therapist or whoever. But I think it's
really important that we really understand what is going on here because we can't stop someone
from dying by suicide. If someone wants to die, they're going to die. Now, can we influence?
Perhaps, but we really can't do a lot. Which comes
to the point of also is talking to your daughter about if we don't tell anyone, if you don't tell
your friend's parents or teachers, and your friend does succeed and dies by suicide, how are
we going to handle that? Are we able to accept that? And again, suicide, it's a cliche, but suicide
is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Another example that I've heard recently,
and I like this analogy, it's not to be flippant, but it's like going to buy shoes, new shoes,
and you realize your shoes are too small, so instead of returning them and trying to find new
shoes, you cut off your toes so your feet fit. It's not really effective way to deal with a problem.
So it's really helping her understand how to deal with this. Also, I think it's important to
talk to your daughter about does this your friends attempted suicide, other friends who've
attempted suicide, does this bring up the idea that you may want to attempt suicide and die by
suicide? Now all of you went, trust me, you're not
planting the seeds of suicide in your kid's head. She's already thought about it. I guarantee
she's thought about it. Everyone has thought about suicide in one way or another. Some people
dismiss it out of hand and don't give them much credence. Some people give it a lot of credence.
I think it's really important to give space for your child to talk about this so we can have a more
conscious and aware conversation instead of having it in here and being the secret, because
then it's murky and hazy and it's hard to know what's going on. But if you can talk about it in a
safe place, you can hopefully make more thoughtful decisions. And then you can also start talking
about how do you start involving teachers or other parents to help your friends not make a very
rash decision. Now, may your friends be angry at the beginning? Maybe, but generally speaking,
once they get to a healthier place, they're really grateful that friends stepped in. Because
ultimately, when people are trying to commit
suicide, they're feeling alone and they're wanting to be heard, wanting to be understood.
Again, I'm painting with a broad brush here, but generally speaking, kids just want to be accepted.
And when kids are trying to commit or die by suicide, oftentimes it's a feeling of being alone
and unaccepted and feeling helpless. And when we are surrounded by a helpful community, helplessness
dissolves into hope and optimism. It can has that opportunity to do it. This is a big topic. Again,
we can talk for an hour or two about this. If you're concerned about your child. Again, there
is the hotline nine, eight, eight, you can call that. You can reach out to your local clergy,
to your therapist, whatever it is, make sure that your kid is getting the support they need so
they can deal with this, because every kid is going to be faced with this in one way or another.
Suicide is a big, big topic among adolescents. So I think it's really important that we are having
open space. Talk about it just as you
would sex or drugs or anything else that's uncomfortable. The more you can talk about it openly
and the more you can lead the way with confidence, the more your child can follow. That's our
topic for today. Thank you so much for your questions. If you'd like to get more of these questions
in your feed, join our Facebook group. Facebook group tips on teens. Again. My name is Kent Toussaint.
If you'd like me to answer your question, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for joining us again, Kent Toussaint, with Teen Therapy Center and the nonprofit Child
and Teen Counseling, and I look forward to seeing you next week. Bye bye, guys.
NO SUCH THING AS “PLANTING A SEED”
We can’t overstress the importance of talking to your kids about suicide. Creating an open and accepting conversation about this topic is equally as important as talking to them about sex or drugs. Some parents may worry about “planting a seed,” or may be apprehensive about introducing the idea in the first place. We promise you; it’s important to talk to your kid about it. Create an awareness instead of letting it be a secret where it will be harder to address.
GET IT OUT IN THE OPEN
Ultimately when people are wanting to commit suicide they’re feeling alone, and wanting to be understood. Generally speaking kids just want to be accepted, and oftentimes when kids want to commit suicide it’s because they want to be seen. By creating an open and accepting conversation about it, we can approach the problem with support and optimism.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION:
It’s a huge topic, and we start the conversation in this Tips on Teens
“In the car, my 15 yo daughter started crying as one of the kids in her class had attempted to commit suicide some time back. She’d told me she could feel their pain the day of but had done nothing and now carries the guilt of doing nothing.
She told me that multiple people in her year have attempted this and the pain she feels when she sees them or thinks of them sucks any joy she has. I asked her if she knows what to do if she feels that someone may hurt themselves. She says she wouldn’t know what to do if it happens again as no one wants teachers/ parents to know. I don’t know what to say or do or what action I should take that would not in turn break her confidence. The alternative is a child could hurt themself while all the other children are walking around with this knowledge and silent pain. Any advice would be appreciated.”
Clinical Director Kent Toussaint answers your parenting questions every Wednesday at 12:00pm in our weekly segment Tips On Teens on Facebook Live. Have questions about parenting kids and teens? Send them to: TipsOnTeens@TeenTherapyCenter.com. We love to hear from you!
Head on over to our Facebook page every Wednesday at 12:00pm to watch LIVE! Check out our page here – https://www.facebook.com/TeenTherapyCenter/
If you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.697.8555.