Empowering Teens to Make Healthy Choices

Written by Harriet Fagan. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on August 11, 2010 with No Comments

By Harriet Fagan

Unhappy Teen

The topic of teen suicide is not one that we want to talk about, much less have to confront. Most of us equate our own teen years with rewarding after-school activities, hours of telephone chatting, the quest for a cool pair of jeans, and seemingly unending efforts to get a certain cute girl or guy to notice us. Oh, sure, we “obsessed” over skin eruptions, braces, possibly being dateless for the big dance, and homework; but, overall, life was pretty good, right?

Sadly, far too many teenagers today don’t see it that way. They perceive their world as hopeless and the challenges of modern teen life too much to bear. The result — nearly one in 10 teens contemplates suicide, and over 500,000 attempt it each year. A recent study conducted by The American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24 and the fourth leading cause of death for those 10-14 years of age.

“But,” you say, “adolescents know so little of life and the possibilities awaiting them.  Why would they consider ending it before it’s really begun?”

Individual reasons vary, of course, but one contributing factor is that teens pretty much only see the here and now. You’ve probably noticed that “blowing things out of proportion” is a common behavior.  The slightest embarrassment or perception that you’re minimizing his or her situation can trigger strong emotional reactions. Without intervention, this immature short-sighted thinking, combined with a growing feeling of utter hopelessness, can be motivation for taking permanent action to alleviate temporary pain. The fact that tools for suicide, such as firearms and pills, are easier to come by today; the pressures of modern life are greater; competition for good grades and college admission stiff; and violence in the media is more prevalent make the unthinkable more possible.

What to do? If you’ve observed changes in your child’s personality, hygiene, grades, eating habits, interaction with friends and family, and other behaviors that signal depression, encourage him to talk about his feelings and listen carefully to what he says. Express your concerns, support, and love while trying to understand and avoid making judgments. Your teen needs to know that when he’s in a scary place —physical or emotional — he’s always safer when he has someone with him. If he’s uncomfortable talking through his pain with you, encourage a talk with a positive-thinking relative, coach, guidance counselor, or pastor as soon as possible. Seeking the help of a physician or qualified mental health professional is a must.

If at any time your child announces, “I’m going to kill myself,” don’t attribute the threat to teenage dramatics. Take the comment seriously and seek assistance from a health professional.

Medication and continued counseling may be necessary to help your teen regain his equilibrium. Keep in mind also that a good diet, regular exercise and outdoor activity are essential to sound mental and physical health. Sometimes acquiring a pet that your child can care for and talk to can provide additional benefits. Furthermore, schedule a fun event a couple of months in the future that your teen can look forward to. He needs to know that the pain will pass and happier days are ahead. The sun will come out tomorrow and it’s worth his effort to be around when it does.

To learn more about the warning signs of suicide, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A suicide hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255. In an emergency, call 1-800-999-9999, or take your teen to the nearest emergency room.

(Harriet Fagan will focus on teen health topics.  Expect to find researched information here about sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, dating violence and teen trends. You’ll also learn about teens and adults in your community who are providing adolescents with guidance in these areas.  The columns will aim to enlighten you and help you and your teen navigate the ever-changing challenges of adolescence.  Fagan is married to her high school sweetheart, mother to two grown daughters, and grandmother to one delightful 4-year-old girl. She is a former secondary teacher, a freelance writer and marketing communications assistant for A Positive Approach to Teen Health.  For questions, email her at thechroniclenwi@comcast.net.)

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About Harriet Fagan

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Harriet Fagan is a mother, grandmother, freelance writer and former educator; she creates this column under the auspices of A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.).

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