One of the most painful parts of my work is sitting with parents who have lost a child to suicide. As I listen to their stories, I can’t help but think of my own sons. Would my boys ever be so unhappy that they would consider taking their lives? Would they tell me if they were?
I know that kids often don’t tell their parents or others when they are miserable. They hide behind smiles or assurances of “I’m fine.” That’s what Bart Palosz from Greenwich, Connecticut, did. According to CNN.com, a month before he killed himself on August 27, he posted, “I notice if I sound sad I’m normal and if I act happy, cheerful, and ‘normal’ there is a high chance that I will try to poison myself, cut myself, commit suicide, or jump in front of a truck:)”
I also often think of the friends, classmates and teammates who were around the child who took his life. Did they know he was so miserable? Did they know why? Did they do anything to reach out to the child to assure him he wasn’t so alone?
The reasons a person decides to take his or her life are complicated. But one thing I know to be true for all of us: If another person sees us in our deepest, darkest moments of despair and reaches out a helping hand, we often step away from the cliff. It is our social connection to one another that gives us the strength to live another day.
Even if your child never considers suicide, there’s a good chance he will know a peer who has. He may witness the child being targeted by other kids who drive that child to feel isolated, attacked and worthless. Our kids shouldn’t be expected to act as mental health professionals, but they should be able to show empathy and compassion to a person in need. So what do you say to your child beyond, “If you see someone who looks depressed, be kind to him”?
If we’re more specific about the situations our children are likely to encounter, we can give them an easier way to put their good intentions into action. Here’s a suggestion for how to do it.
If you have an older child (eighth grade and above), try to stay away from the word “bullying.” Instead, say something like: “If you see someone—or you get any kind of social networking post where someone—is being relentless humiliated, I expect you to not contribute to it in any way. If it happens in person, don’t pretend you didn’t hear it. Don’t laugh, even if it’s out of nervousness. And if you find yourself doing either of these things, stop yourself and apologize to the target. And at the very least, turn to the person who is tormenting this kid and say something like ‘Lay off.’ If you see it on a social network, not only do I expect you not to forward it, but you will do what you can to stop people from using these pictures against the other person.”
It’s the feeling that no one in their world supports them, will stand by them or will stop the campaign of cruelty that makes kids feel they don’t have the strength to keep their head high another day. Our children can offer comfort and support to people in need. They can make a difference in the moment it may matter the most.
Have you spoken to your child about sticking up for kids who are being targeted? What have you said? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.