It is such a strange time to be a parent of a teenager. September is national suicide prevention month and with a global pandemic and unrest among people, it is hard to temper the feelings of your young and impressionable teenager. Last year, Encore started September with a Suicide Prevention 5K walk and a mural in the quad to help our students cope and know that they are not alone. This year, without being on campus, it has made the efforts of our ASB more difficult in getting the word out.
State Public Health Agencies are reporting a rise in suicide rates during the stay at home orders due to COVID-19. Documentaries like, "The Social Dilemma" are reporting over a 100% rise in high school and middle school suicide due to social media. It is a hard time to be a teenager, and it is hard to be a parent of teenager too.
Encore uses courses from the National Federation of High School Sports for professional development for emotional health of our students that are active. On their website they offer a really good FREE course for parents and teachers called "Social Media." I recommend this course for all parents to help you understand the beast that is social media. It is a quick course. I think I completed it in about an hour. (https://nfhslearn.com/courses?utf8=%E2%9C%93&searchText=social+media)
My second recommendation for this post (because social media is the strongest trigger for teen suicide in the world right now) is for every parent and every student to watch "The Social Dilemma." This is an independent film on Netflix that interviews the big players from platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter about the effects of "screen time" on teens and how social media shapes the choices that our teenagers make. I watched the film in it's entirety this week and I am left with a lot of questions and even more awareness. Understanding the mechanics of how things work might help you navigate appropriate rules in your home when it comes to social media. It is a very eye opening film. (I have also heard that "Hacked" is good as well, but I have not yet watched it.)
Being a teenager is an emotional time. As a parent, it can be hard to recognize what behaviors are signs that your child might be contemplating suicide or just a bad day. The following are from suicidepreventionlifeline.org listed as tips to care for yourself. Anyone could be contemplating suicide and it is the second leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 24. As parents, it is important that we have the hard discussions with our kids and we teach them how to build the tools that they need for a healthy and emotionally aware lifestyle. Here are things that should be taught to your children.
Ask for help - Don't be afraid to let your friends, family, teachers, or school counselors know what you need when they ask. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Make a safety plan - A safety plan can help guide you through touugh time and help you learn how to get through tough things safely. This website can help you build a plan. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/
Remember that feelings can be overcome - There are a host of things that happen in life that seem like you will not be able to overcome (family conflict, relationships, identity, loss) Look for support and you can get through it.
Evaluate the relationships in your life - Learning the difference between a loving relationship and a toxic one is important. Make sure you respect yourself and know your rights. https://www.loveisrespect.org/for-yourself/
It is also important to know that your kids might not want to talk to you about their problems. Every parent want their kid's safe space to be with them, but sometimes it is a sibling, pastor, mentor, or other trusted adult. It is important to understand that if your child is in a position where they are contemplating harm, they are supported to talk to someone.... even if that isn't you as the parent. (That is a hard pill to swallow.)
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH
If you need immediate help, there is always someone to reach out to.
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741 for a free 24/7 crisis counselor
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
MAKE YOUR KIDS COMMUNICATE IN REAL LIFE
I have three kids ranging in age from 17 to 28. Each of them deal with pressure and anxiety differently and each of them confides in different people about what happens in their lives. They have done this their whole lives and it has helped them when things get tough. My husband and I pay attention to who they are confiding in so we know that they are releasing that emotion somewhere and that we trust the person they are confiding in to support them in healing. We try not to make a big deal out of it, we just watch from behind the scenes so our teenagers can feel independent while we are checking in to make sure their choices are good. (Yes, we are confided in as well, but not all of the time.)
I also believe that taking time to make your kids engage with you WITHOUT SCREENS is imperative to understanding what is going on in their head from day to day. My parents always comment when they come to visit that they cannot believe how much young people today do not have the ability to carry on a conversation without the use of their phones. I took that to heart several years ago and made it a goal of mine that my kids would be able to get through a meal without looking at their phones. Admittedly, we are not the family that sits at the table every night for a meal. If that happens a few times a month, we are lucky. We do take time to talk on car rides and we do try to do things with our kids regularly that require them to be engaged as a family. (We recently did an Escape Room with our son and that was so much fun.)
We also try to make sure that their friends feel comfortable at our house so we can get an understanding of who they are hanging out with and what they are talking about (what games they play online, etc.) While we do not insert ourselves into their friend time completely, all of them are required to have some kind of communicaton with us (even if it is brief.) We try to prepare food for them (because teenagers eat), and spend just a couple of minutes around them. Then we give them their space (because that shows them that we respect them too.) I am not saying that our parent tips are the best or the worst, but it has worked for our family so far. All three of my kids can express how they feel and all three of them engage in conversation with all members of our family. My parents (which are still my gauge for all of life) always compliment my kids because they take time out to talk to their grandparents. I believe that respectful human interaction helps people become healthy in their emotional health.
My challenge to our teens and to our parents - find time every day to be away from the SCREEN and figure out what life looks like through your own eyes. The sunsets in the high desert are some of the most beautiful in the world. Take some time to enjoy them.
Watch out for your family and friends and find your happy place for social and emotional health. Remember: You Are Not Alone.
Thank you for your ongoing support of youth arts and thank you for your ongoing support of Encore High School.
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Denise Griffin, CEO is the author of this blog for Encore Education Corporation. Part of Encore Education Corporation is Encore High School, a free public performing arts regional high school in Southern California grades 7 - 12. Encore's program is currently taking applications for the fall 2020 enrollment. Encore offers full time, hybrid time, and independent study programs. Encore offers transporation from the Inland Empire and the high desert. www.encorehighschool.com. Where arts and academics grow together. WASC Accredited. Copyright 2020.