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How To Talk to Your Teen About Suicide

The tragedy of teens dying due to feelings of overwhelming hopelessness or frustration is devastating to everyone – family, friends, and the community as a whole. For parents, learning how to approach the sensitive subject with teens is one of the most effective ways to help prevent further tragedies.

It’s Your Job to Educate Your Teen

It may not be an easy talk to have with your child, but it’s absolutely necessary. Here’s a look at three common conversation hurdles and why it’s important to overcome them:

“I don’t want to talk about suicide – that will plant the idea in my kid’s head!”

Statistics tell us, the idea might already be there. Surveys reveal that 17 percent of high school students admit to thinking about suicide. If they haven’t thought about it themselves, they have a friend who has, or they’ve been exposed to it on some form of media. Avoiding the subject will not keep it out of their mind. It will only keep them from having open, honest communication about it.

“I don’t need to talk about suicide – my teen is perfectly fine.”

Perhaps they’re hormonal but happy. That’s great news. But, suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second for college-aged students. Eight percent of high school students admit they’ve made an attempt. Even if your teen is doing great now, it’s worth the conversation to prepare them if things get rough in the future.

“I don’t want to talk about suicide. I have no idea how to approach this topic.”

Of the three statements, this is the one that rings true. For most parents, suicide is a difficult topic to cover. Yet, it’s an important one to discuss with your teen. It may help to simply categorize it with the many other conversations parents have to have with their children to teach them and guide them. Wearing a seat belt. Stranger danger. Using alcohol or drugs. The birds and the bees. Risky sexual behavior. Dating. Suicide.

Open Communication is Crucial

Once you’ve established that this is something you should discuss with your child, you can take the next steps to ensure this conversation happens and is fruitful. The key is to LISTEN.

  • (L)isten: As you wade into these intimidating waters, remember to be quick to listen. You will have questions. You will have points you want to make. But, be sure to hear what your teen has to say about this subject. It could be life changing.
  • (I)nquire: Ask your teen what they think about suicide. Be direct. Ask if they’ve ever considered it, or if any of their friends have talked about it.
  • (S)cript: You don’t have to wing it. Plan what you want to say ahead of time. You don’t have to memorize a speech, but rehearsing a bit of a script can be helpful.
  • (T)iming: Like most conversations, timing is key. Choose a time when you have their full attention. This might be a long car ride or a parent/child date night. You can also watch for a conversation lead-in, such as a suicide topic in a movie or show you see together.
  • (E)mpathize: Admit the topic is hard. Be honest by letting them know it’s not easy for you to talk about suicide. This will help them be honest about their feelings too.
  • (N)ext steps: Depending on how your conversation goes, you will need to decide where to go from here. If your teen is considering suicide or has many questions, the topic obviously needs to be revisited. But, don’t overreact (or underreact). Whether you see red flags or not, keep lines of communication open. Repeat the LISTEN process as needed to ensure this crucial topic gets the attention it deserves.



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