I try the very best that I can to remember what it was like to be a teenager as I am raising my own. I had a hellish time in middle school, I loathed drama all the way to my core. High school wasn't much better. I was not popular, not pretty, not any of the things that ever seemed important at that time in my life...and consequently have taught my kids from the time they were wee little babes to embrace who they are and discard with the expectations that society would like to impose on them.
My two middle schoolers are fairly grounded people, perhaps in part at least because of all that. They are unique and interesting and love what they love without regard for who might tease them. They are pretty resilient with friends and all the teenage drama. They avoid conflicts when possible and those who feed on them. They are independent and outgoing, sometimes in ways that floors me. I was never that confident in who I was at their age. It's refreshing to see.
I don't worry about them too much when it comes to interpersonal conflicts at school, or at least I try not to. Every once in a while, though, I remind them that I'm here to listen if they ever need to talk, that there are tons of other adults ready too if for some reason they don't want to talk to me. If you don't want to talk to me, just talk to someone, I tell them. I encourage them to share their feelings, telling them to feel all the feelings, not just the good ones. Squashing the bad ones down won't work.
I remind them frequently, and I've reminded them more so recently because of reality. In this world where we want to insulate our children from pain and grief and loss, it's always there in some capacity. Sometimes it hits home a little more, and has done that here in the past few weeks as our community has faced a series of suicides.
I asked The Oldest if they had talked about suicide at school, if the counselors had been in at all, especially in light of recent events. These deaths have impacted another school on the other side of the district most directly, but being as we have open enrollment, the kids all seem to know someone who knows someone over there.
We may not want to have these conversations as parents. We may not want our children to know that sometimes people take their own lives. We may not want to talk to them about the effects of bullying on the human psyche. We may not want to confront the realities that mental illness happens to people of all ages. We may not want to believe that we've passed down our own tendencies to them.
But we have to.
The Oldest asked, during that conversation I just had with him, what OCD was. I explained it, asked him why he was curious about it. Told him that there are traces of it throughout our family, but he has never shown the signs of it aside from methodically lining things up when he was a toddler.
We got to talking more about the conditions that people in our family face. The ADHD, the anxiety, the depression. The things that could be a part of his life someday. The things he may have inherited from us, his parents.
The things he needs to keep an eye out for, that I need to watch for. The things that we need to address if and when they do show up. The things that already affect some of his siblings.
These aren't easy conversations to have, but they are necessary. For as much as we may want our children to dwell in the world where tragedies don't happen, we aren't doing them any favors by letting them stay naive. Part of growing up means having an awareness of mental health problems, of depression, of suicide, and they need our help to do it.
We can't make light of their situations, their worries, their struggles, no matter how inconsequential we may believe them to be - to them, they are hugely important. If we don't listen to them and honor their place in life, they will stop talking to us. We need to hear them, we need to listen, we need to keep the channels open so they have a safe place to land.
Talk to your kids.
Make sure they can talk to you.
Make sure they have someone else to talk to as well.
There are tips here if you aren't sure how to start this conversation. Please have it.
National Suicide Prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255.
TEENLINK is another resource available 6-10 PST, 1- 866- TEENLINK
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