(On suicide prevention…)
I’m guilty, too.
Of letting my teen spend too much time online. Of not requiring her to spend enough time outdoors. Of letting it become too common practice to do our own things in separate rooms most of the time.
These are dangerous things. Especially in these times. Too many (more than zero) young people take their own lives because they are ill, and parents and teachers too often simply aren’t aware. And often, being aware still isn’t enough. Sometimes, being the best parent isn’t enough. Sometimes, love simply isn’t enough.
I think all we can do as parents and teachers is our part. But most of us can do better with our part.
As a high school senior teacher, I have mental health on my radar foremost. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Way before academics. No one flies under my radar. Sometimes, I need to slip a student my banana. Sometimes, a secret note. Sometimes, a hug. Sometimes, some one-on-words in the hall. Sometimes, I need to repeat the question, insisting they look at me this time: “Are you okay?” Sometimes, as an English teacher, I give them writing journal prompts so they can vent. I simply try to be aware. I go out of my way to know each and every student. Mental health illness is not selective in who it takes. The star athlete and the quiet kid in the corner are equally susceptible to becoming prey. I’ve witnessed it.
I went to a Catholic high school in the late 80s. A popular girl cut her wrist during school and was carried to the nurse by her boyfriend. Self-harm is not new. Yet, it seems too much like a common option these days. And then there are those young people telling each other to kill themselves: that seems new and especially twisted. Suicide by younger children especially baffles me: I don’t remember that ever.
Our youth need adequate (healthy) family time, community time, outdoor time, physical activity, healthy social activities, and a higher power. Mental health illness will still come. But these are the essential bare minimums we really need to make priority to fully develop our children and students, to arm them as much as possible.
They need to know they are loved and that they are (so much more than) good enough and that they matter and that their future is full of hope and potential.
We need to do more. We ALL need to unplug more. Have actual face time. Stay outside in nature longer. Pray together. Not make “God” or “Jesus” a controversial bad word. I can’t imagine going through what I’ve gone through myself in life so far without a higher power. I can’t imagine thinking about my personal potential, my self-esteem, my future without a higher power. You are NEVER alone with belief that you were created with loving purpose, that He always walks beside or carries you, that He alone has seen what is ahead and would never lead you into harm, that you are a precious child of God and must respect your own body and life.
I can’t share my faith with my students. But when I am hungry, I can sneak my breakfast to that one kid instead. I can let them know they are loved. I can openly believe in them. I can model care and respect for all.
I share my faith with my children. But I can simply spend more time with them. In this out-of-control digital age, I think we all can. And we must revert or start today. It may not be enough. But it could be.
(This morning, after viewing a friend’s posted FB video clip, another started automatically rolling, a moving one by a dad who recently lost his 12-yr-old son and was contemplating the effects of COVID isolation. 12 years old…)