How should I talk with my adolescent son about a friend of his who recently took his own life? The boy was hardly more than an acquaintance, but I know that this incident has impacted my teenager deeply. Can you help me figure out the best way to approach the subject with him?
It's vital that you make an effort to discuss this subject honestly and openly with your son. When a young person commits suicide, everyone in the community is impacted. Family members, friends, teammates, neighbors and sometimes even those who hardly knew the teen may experience feelings of grief, confusion and guilt. They might also struggle with a sense that the suicide could have been prevented if only they had done something differently. Under such circumstances, people need desperately to grieve and bring their feelings out into the open. It's never healthy to suppress deep emotional reactions of this nature.
It's often assumed that talking about suicide may have the unintended effect of encouraging suicide. This is a misconception. In actuality, the opposite is true: frank discussion and open airing of suicide-related fears, doubts and tensions is one of the best ways of preventing self-destructive behavior among young people. So take steps to open the lines of communication and keep the talk flowing freely and naturally.
It's worth noting that contemporary teens are often more comfortable talking about this subject than are their parents. If you give him a chance, you'll probably find that your son doesn't require a great deal of prompting. Our guess is that he'll prove more than willing to unburden his mind, express his feelings, and share his perspective on the suicide if you invite him to do so. Once the door is open, you may discover that you're the one struggling to face this issue squarely and honestly. If so, don't hesitate to seek help from a pastor, a church elder, an experienced teacher or a trained counselor. Suicide is a serious and formidable problem, and is now the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. It's important to educate and equip yourself thoroughly before discussing it with your adolescent.
This could be an excellent opportunity for you and your child to discuss some of the possible reasons for the rise in teen suicide over the past several decades and to delve into the spiritual and philosophical implications of this trend. Talk about the pervasive hopelessness, malaise, and desensitization to the value of life that seem to characterize many members of the up-and-coming generation. Get your son to think seriously about what it means to live in a world without purpose, without meaning, and without God.
As the conversation becomes more detailed and specific, ask your teen if he has any idea why the young man in question felt compelled to end his life. If relevant facts are available, take a close look at the personal and social pressures that may have contributed to the victim's distress. Was he depressed? Had he experienced a significant loss or disappointment? Where there conflicts at home? Bully troubles at school? Did he have trouble connecting with his peers? Find out if your son has ever wrestled with similar issues. Ask what you can do to help him navigate the storms of his daily life.
You should also talk about the sadness you felt when you first heard the story of this teen's suicide. Tell your son that you couldn't bear it if something like that ever happened to him. Assure him that he can always talk to you about anything that's going on in his life, no matter how sad, scary or embarrassing it may be. Make it clear that you will always love him and be there for him no matter what he might be going through. Remind him that his Creator, in whose image he's been made, has a plan for his life (Jeremiah 29:11). Affirm your conviction that, in God's economy, there is always hope no matter how dark our circumstances may appear. And set an example of resilient faith and hope in your own life.
If you need help, please don't hesitate to contact our Counseling department.
Parenting in the Midst of Tragedy
Suicide (resource list)
How to Help Your Child Grieve