By: Tonya Mead, PhD, Educational Psychologist
Ten tips for parents to prevent child suicide (youth suicide) was originally written in 2017. This is an update that with sadness the author seeks to provide insight into the negative impact of the pandemic and the turbulent destruction left in its wake.
If parents did not know in 2017, we certainly know now that the threat of suicide is ever present among our youth and neighborhood kids. This danger of child and teen suicide spans several age groups. As the Center for Disease Control reported in 2020, the rate of suicide among teens aged 12 to 17 increased by 30%.
However, the threat of child suicide completion is not confined to kids, children, adolescents and teens in the 12 to 17 age bracket;. There are studies showing that children as young as 9 and 10 have had suicidal thoughts. For instance, in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, of the approximate 12,000 children participating, 6.4 percent reported a history of wishing to be dead; 4.4 percent had wanted to take their own life without a method, intent or plan. Almost 3 percent had expressed an intent to act on their suicidal thoughts, developed a suicide plan and considered a method for committing the act. Just 1.3 percent had carried out a suicide attempt while 9.1 percent intentionally injured themselves without the suicidal intent.
Although the research cited by the CDC, using pre and post COVID-19 data of youth suicide attempts did not venture to determine the risk factors associated with suicidal thoughts, attempts and self-injury; the research published in the February 7, 2020, issue of Journal of American Medical Association theorized that “family conflict – involving factors such as fighting, criticism, competitiveness and anger within a family – was associated with a higher likelihood of suicide ideation and non-suicidal self-injury among children. “
Parent Tips to Prevent Child Suicide
- Actively involve the PTA in managing the hallways, cafeteria, and bathrooms before and after school and during recess and lunch. The volunteer dad group, WATCH DOGS is an excellent program.
- Ask your local school to develop and present an intervention, behavioral modification plan and/or a positive behavior system. Request to see the plan and reports of implementation regularly.
- Turn off the television. Limit your child’s time spent playing violent video games.
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- Turn on your radar. Parents have an instinctive radar to ferret out trouble. Did you child obliquely mention the troubles of a classmate? He might be referring to his own situation. Is he joking about something that could be serious? It might be his attempt to communicate something to you without raising your alarm. Forget the hassles of work. Get out there. Get involved. Make the necessary calls. You’ll save yourself the guilt trip later.
- Communicate regularly with your child. Ask open-ended questions about his day with keen emphasis on his mood and temperament during transition periods.
- Make your presence known. Visit your child’s school monthly. Drop in unannounced. See if your child is attending his regularly scheduled class, or is he skipping, walking the hallways? Is he off to himself during lunch? Does he appear to be engaged in the classroom? You can learn a lot more during a regular class day that during a ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ parent and teacher conference event.
- Skip the principal. In today’s highly competitive world, parents immediately head to the school principal or another top level administrator (superintendent or school board) when there is a school issue. Remember too much of a good thing isn’t good. Failure to follow protocol and lines of authority increases the chance that a teacher will take a hands off approach to avoid trouble in the event of an incidence.
- Develop a school support network. Get to know the teachers. Establish rapport. Let them know that you appreciate that they are looking after your child. Don’t forget teachers, administrators, counselors and other support staff during the holidays. Present with a thank you note or card showing appreciation.
- Establish a relationship with his friends. Do you shun the favored parents of your child’s friends? Do you think they are too ‘touchy feely’ or ‘phony’? Go ahead and emulate them. The more your child’s friends take an active liking to you, the greater the likelihood that they will protect and look out for your child. When you are not around, your child’s friends may also serve as his ‘super conscious ego police’ informing and stopping him when he is about to harm himself, break the rules, or disobey authority. Too much popcorn, sugar, praise and hugs in this case is never a bad thing.
- Finally, get to know the under-paid and under-appreciated security guards, custodians, engineers. Often many have a special connection with the kids and are the first to step in when something goes wrong. A little act of kindness toward your fellow man regardless of his/her position goes a long way. In so doing, you may save your child’s life.
Emergency Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts, CDC.
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