He gets a surprising number of letters about suicide, and the first letter comes from a teen-ager's aunt in Massachusetts.
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My 13-year-old niece told me that she has been depressed for three years and thought about suicide a year ago. She won't let me tell her parents. I made her promise not to hurt herself and to call me if she had those thoughts. I told her that if she was 'at risk,' then I would have to break my silence. I plan to spend more time helping her cope. What else can an aunt do?"
- Avoid secrecy pacts with teen-agers.
- Here's some background info on adolescent suicide: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for kids between 15-19 (Jason Foundation).
Girls talk more about it and make more attempts, but boys are successful more often. Any types of transitions are always vulnerable times.
Now that a secret pact has been made, is there a way for the aunt to take action without losing the girl's trust?
- The aunt should get support for herself, at very least a suicide prevention Web site or hotline such as saferchild.org or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE or (1-800-784-2433).
- Work with her to tell her parents. Perhaps help her write them a note.
- Help her come up with a plan to help her parents along --- names of counselors, etc.
- If she can't do this, encourage her to talk with her physician about what is going on.
- Help her to find a counselor at the high school she will attend in September to talk with.
- Give her a suicide hotline number.
The second letter reads:
My 12-year-old son confided in me that he tried smoking pot a few weeks ago with a friend of a friend at the basketball court. We have role-played ways of saying 'no' and what to do if approached, which included telling me. Now that he has told me -- I don't know what to do!"
- Take a deep breath. Try not to panic. You don't have to cover it all or be perfect from the get-go. What matters most is how you respond over time.
- Bad news: Your kid just tried pot.
- Good news: He told you! This means he either wants you to remind him why it's a terrible idea to smoke pot or he wants your approval, which he knows he won't get. So actually, he wants consistency from you.
So what's the best way to open the conversation?
Start a line of questioning and listening along the lines of: "You know that part of you that is against pot smoking? What got in the way of you listening to that part of you with this friend of a friend?" Then listen, as this will be tough for him to answer. Eventually you want him to understand that he disappointed himself as well as you when he tried pot.
What's the most important message to drive home?
In the end, he needs to know that you are disappointed and hope that he never smokes pot again, and you are proud of him for coming to you to talk about it, which you hope he does feel safe to do around any topic.
You need to remain vigilant as the earlier a kid tries pot, the greater likelihood of it developing into a problem. But be clear. While you pay attention to the problem, don't do anything to sabotage the relationship, which is clearly very strong.
What about consequences?
Enlist his help in coming up with an appropriate consequence. In this case, it needn't be too severe, perhaps even a chore around the house that you help him with, something that strengthens your bond with each other.