I recently watched the second season of 13 Reasons Why. There was a scene where one of the characters was talking to his mom telling her that he has felt suicidal at times. She not only dismissed those feelings, but told him that he would have no reason to feel that way. She told him he was a "good boy."
The scene really spoke to me because I know it happens frequently. Loving, caring parents dismiss their children's feelings because they (the parents) can not handle them or understand them. They think only "troubled" youth (whatever that means) could possibly feel that way. They are scared of what it might mean if their child really has suicidal thoughts.
I also have had many parents in the past tell me that the youth is just saying it for attention. Maybe, but then shouldn't we give the kid attention before it becomes worse. This attention does not have to be in the form of extra privileges, gifts, etc but a youth expressing suicidal ideation (SI) needs our attention.
There are other scenes in the TV show where a youth expresses their feelings and the parent in one way or another tells them they are being dramatic. Again, maybe, but telling them that does not change how the youth feels. It does, however, increases the chances that the kid will share less with them.
As parents and caring adults, we need to listen and validate our kid's feelings. Validating does not mean we agree or even understand why they are feelings that way. It means we are showing our kids that we understand they are having strong emotions and can identify what those emotions are. For example, your sixteen year old son tells you he is really feeling depressed after a fight with his girlfriend and that life will always suck. Validate his feelings by saying something like "it sounds like you are really upset and sad over the fight. it is hard to fight with those we care about. Do you want to talk more about it?" If you don't have time in that moment to give your full attention, set up a time and make it a priority.
Just because something seems like a small deal to us, does not make it feel small to our children. Think about a time you were really upset and someone dismissed those feelings. How did that make you feel?
If your kid is having feelings that seem to much to handle or is expressing SI, seek out help. For SI, ask your child if they have a plan. If they say yes, seek help immediately by calling BHR (800-811-4760) or taking them to the hospital.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.