Teen Suicide – How do we talk about it with our kids?

How do you talk to your middle school tweenager about heavy topics like 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 to live happier lives.
I lead two organizations, Teen Therapy Center and the nonprofit 501c3 organization, child
and teen counseling, both here in Woodland Hills, California. Every Wednesday at noon, I jump
onto Facebook Live to answer your parenting questions. Let's answer today's. There have been
several reported runaways and suicide attempts at our middle school this semester. How should
I be talking to my kids about this without freaking them or me out? Thank you for your question.
This is a really tough one. I totally understand the discomfort and the fear aligned with all
this. How you talk about it, the first thing is make sure that you are feeling grounded and comfortable
or at least able to embrace the discomfort of the conversation.

Because if you're scared of it, and you're hesitant, your kids are going to pick up on that. And
they're going to be just as hesitant, if not more. So it's really important that you're doing
your work on yourself, whether that's through journaling, talking to your own therapist or
whatever that is, make sure you feel you can talk about this in a direct and respectful manner.
Second, let's create an environment where there's little to no distraction where you guys
can talk. Maybe that's in the car, maybe that's in her bedroom or in the kitchen table. And again,
that is without a cell phone present. I know that's a challenge, but that's, you know, the cell
phone just going to get in the way. Third is just talk about a directly with some compassion.
You know, you can say, Hey, I know, there's been a lot of, you know, suicide attempts at school
lately. And I imagine it's got to be kind of tough. I'm curious how you're feeling about it. Now,
you may get the you know, don't let that throw you.

It's okay. Stay in the conversation and say, Well, if I were you, I would have a lot of feelings.
And I just want you to know that I want to be a safe place for you to talk about that. And you may still
get the shrugging of shoulders and say, Hey, you know, I just want to make sure you're feeling
safe and you don't feel alone because a lot of times suicide or running away comes from the same
place of feeling trapped, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like you don't know what to do. And
so it feels like, you know, it's the cliche line. It's the permanent solution to a temporary
problem. Some kids relate to that. Some kids won't, it just depends. But I want to make sure you
don't feel trapped. And I'm wondering, have you ever felt this way? Have you ever felt like you
need to kill yourself or run away to escape your problems? Right now, I know the alarm bells in
your head are ringing, like, I can't say that. I'm gonna give them the idea, and you're not. You're
not. If they haven't thought about

it, they're likely to say, no, and roll the eyes, and you can probably take them at their word.
If you ask the question, hey, have you thought about suicide before, or running away, and you
get the long pause, or you just get the hmm there may be something more there and I think it's okay
to acknowledge that hey you know your long pause or your ambiguous answer you know makes me concerned
because I love you so much I want to make sure that you don't feel alone and you don't feel trapped
and if you can't talk to me I want to make sure you have someone to talk to whether that's your cousin
whether that's a therapist whether that's your rabbi whoever that is someone who can be a support
for your teenager and or teenager. And if you need to find that person, I encourage you to find
that person. But it's talking about, you know, coping skills that you know, through creativity,
through physical activities, social activities, grounding exercises, exercises like breathing
exercises, there's a lot

of things that help, but helping them understand that being alone with these feelings is overwhelming.
Sharing these feelings in a safe place where you're not going to feel judged, where you're going
to feel supported, not necessarily that you're going to give the answers, just that you can
just listen and understand may be enough. And I think it's helping to create those environments
and helping them understand that those environments are there. Also providing the 988, the
National Suicide Hotline. So if they have, you know, three in the morning they can't sleep and
they don't want to wake you up, but they're willing to call 988, that's an option too. It's a big
topic. Again, running away and suicide, painting with a broad brush here, often come from the
same place of feeling overwhelmed, feeling like these problems are beyond one's capacity
to handle and it'll never end. As adults, we know, most of us, that problems come and go. And no
matter how big the problem is, eventually it passes.

And it depends not, the problem is not what defines us, it's how we respond to the problem. and
helping our kids understand how we respond to problems is what defines us, who we are, not the
problem itself. This is a huge topic, obviously, and I'm going to scratch the surface a little
bit, but I think it's really important to talk about kids directly about this in an open and healthy
conversation, not trying to convince them, not trying to change their minds, but help them
understand that you understand how they feel. That's our question for today. Again, my name
is Kent Toussaint with Teen Therapy Center. If you want more information, give us a call at our
phone number below. We love to hear your questions. If you want me to answer your question here
on Tips on Teens, you can email us at tipsonteens at teentherapycenter .com. You can also join
our Facebook group, Tips on Teens. We'd love to have you join. Thanks again, and I'll see you
guys next week. Bye -bye.

For parents, there can be a lot of discomfort in talking to our kids about scary things like teen suicide and other dangers. These kinds of conversations bring up all kinds of scary emotions that we’d rather not go anywhere near. However, it is crucial to have these discussions in a calm and collected manner. If you’re scared or hesitant, your kid is going to pick up on it and match your energy.

Some tips for getting ready:

  • Do whatever kind of self care or work you need to do to be more at ease.
  • Create a distraction free environment where you can talk.
  • Be curious and compassionate!
  • Make sure your kid knows you’re a safe place to talk

These are just a few pointers. It’s a big topic, and get into it in more depth in this Tips on Teens:

“There have been several reported runaways and teen suicide attempts at our middle school this semester. How should I be talking to my kids about this without freaking them or me out?”

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.