Written on October 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm , by Paula Chin
It’s an absolutely heartbreaking story—yet another youth, in this case 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Winter Haven, Florida, commits suicide after being relentlessly bullied online for months by her classmates.
But this time there’s a new twist to the lurid headlines: The local sheriff arrested two girls, ages 14 and 12, charging them with felony aggravated stalking after a message appeared in the Facebook feed of the older girl that read, “Yes Ik I bullied RECECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF” [translation: “I don’t give a (expletive)”]. The girl’s parents said someone had hacked into her FB account, but the sheriff isn’t buying it. In fact, he says he’d put them in jail if he could for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
You may think he’s gone way too far. Or you may feel he’s right on the mark. Either way, the sheriff has turned the spotlight and focused it on parents and their culpability when it comes to cyberbullying. When you stop and think about it, this has been the elephant in the room, the unspoken, taboo topic amid all the tragic teen suicides in the news: To what degree are parents to blame when their children become taunters, tormentors, emotional abusers and worse?
Normally in this space we chat about things moms should discuss with their children. Perhaps this is a topic we should start talking about with each other.
Written on October 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm , by Janet Taylor
Imagine you’re a fireman being rushed to the scene of a blaze. Your fire truck pulls up to a building engulfed in smoke and flames when you come to a shocking realization: It’s your own house that’s on fire. A sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach. Meanwhile, a fear of the unknown mixes with knowledge, desperation and the need to just do your job.
Well, last week, I felt like that fireman.
My daughter called me three days in a row from college with escalating panic and tears. She voiced anxiety that I had never heard before. Her emotional climb wasn’t due to the usual school angst: feeling overworked, over-partied and just plain overwhelmed. She had increasing feelings of gloom and doom that had emerged from out of the blue.
Usually, I can quell any emotional situation that arises with my family. Hey, I am a professional. But it became increasingly apparent that she wasn’t experiencing anything that a prescription of my calming words could handle.
I racked my brain—and hers—searching for a cause of her anxiety and hence a solution. “I just don’t know what to do,” she told me. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Her words hit my heart and my gut. I urged her to go to the student health center, which she did. But she ended up only talking about a hurt finger. Perhaps the fear of being labeled as “crazy” or opening up to a stranger was just too much.
When I realized that her visit to the student health center was just that—a visit—and she was still increasingly symptomatic, I began to panic. I imagined the worst: that she had suffered an unresolved horrible trauma, was potentially suicidal or truly losing her mind. As the mother of four daughters, during their teenage years even I thought that a possibility.
Summoning my doctor’s hat, I told her to go to the emergency room and added a precautionary order. “If you don’t go, I will send EMS to your dorm room,” I told her. “I can do that, you know.” Reluctantly, she went. It turns out that she was experiencing panic attacks, a common form of anxiety as a reaction to stress. Her blood work was normal and she actually felt relief after going to the ER. Luckily, she had a very compassionate and competent doctor who—with my daughter’s permission—called me. Together, we developed a plan to manage her anxiety.
Being on the other side of the table as a concerned but helpless parent increased my empathy for what the families of my patients go through. Eventually, every mom will arrive at a point where she doesn’t have all the answers for her kids. But that doesn’t make you powerless to aid them. You can still be their hero by helping them find the help they need.
Have you ever felt helpless to assist your child? Post a comment and share what happened.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on October 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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?
Written on October 14, 2013 at 10:00 am , by Family Circle
Written by John Trautwein
I’ve been told that I am a member of the “saddest club on earth.” I am a suicide survivor. In just one week, it will be the third anniversary of the suicide of my teenage son, Will.
My boy was a very successful, talented, popular, healthy and handsome 15-year-old high school freshman, yet he somehow lost the will to live and took his own life, leaving his family and so many loving friends absolutely stunned and shocked. None of us knew anything was wrong—we not only thought Will was happy, we all wished we were like him.
Will came from a loving home. My wife and I have a wonderful marriage and a very positive approach to parenting and to life in general. Our home was always happy—we were always happy. The Trautwein family was living the dream. Today, however, we are the face of teen suicide in America.
During that fateful weekend when I said goodbye to my son, I thought I would never smile again. However, I was wrong. You see, during that weekend of Will’s funeral and every day since, my friends quite simply picked me up and carried me through life’s darkest hours. My wife experienced the same from her friends.
They showed us the good and the love that do indeed still exist in our lives, every day, even during this absolutely awful tragic period. I was shocked at the power my friends had to help me, and I remember thinking, If only Will could have realized this. If only his friends, who were so devastated by his death, could have known the power they had to help Will and to help one another.
I very quickly realized that the greatest friends I ever made in my life, those who stood up for me at my wedding and are the godparents to my kids, were friends I made when I was Will’s age—my teenage friends—who I now refer to as my Life Teammates.
If only Will had recognized what wonderful friends he’d already made in his short time on earth, maybe he would have reached out to them—maybe. If only Will’s friends had known he was hurting, they could have reached out to him—maybe.
Weeks after Will’s death, we started a nonprofit foundation called the Will to Live Foundation, which, just as its motto states, is “for the kids, through the kids, and by the kids.”
Will to Live’s goal is to spread awareness of suicide prevention and depression while working with teens and young adults to help them recognize that right next to them—in the classroom, on the field or in the dugout, in the youth group, scout troop, music group or band, or at the dinner table—are some of life’s greatest friends.
So let’s talk, and let’s listen. Let’s encourage our kids to do the same. We all need to realize that life is extremely hard, and to win this battle against teen suicide, we have to act together and show one another the good and the love that exist in our lives. I know that’s what my son would want us to do.
John Trautwein, of Atlanta, GA, cofounded (along with wife Susie) the Will to Live Foundation in honor of their 15-year-old son, who took his own life in 2010.
Written on October 8, 2013 at 11:13 am , by Family Circle
Written by Lisa Lampel
The morning of October 15, 2010, started out like every other: up early, lunches made, kids up, fed, dressed and off to the bus stop. That is, until the phone rang at 7:45 a.m. The sound of my best friend’s voice was so agonizing, almost unrecognizable, as she told me, “Will killed himself last night.” What? WHAT? No. There must be some mistake. Will was a strapping, athletic, popular 15-year-old whom all the other kids flocked to. He had a great family and lots of friends. Surely this was not happening. It was not possible that Will would do this. Not possible.
But I jumped in the car, kids still standing at the bus stop, and raced down the street to my friend’s house. Then I saw the police car, the CSI van, and it was like I was in a nightmare. This couldn’t really be happening. Not to this family. Not in our nice little community. Yet as I ran inside, past the pastor from church, past the detectives in the hall, and saw my friends John and Susie in their living room, it hit me. This is real. Our lives were never going to be the same. I was going to be coming here every morning and getting their three other kids ready for school and then helping Susie to get up and get dressed, because there was no way she was going to recover from this. My happy, energetic friend was gone, I was sure of it.
What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. The kids, Will’s friends, immediately sprung into action. In a state of shock, they planned a memorial. Quiet as church mice, they came in droves. Teachers, coaches, friends, even strangers spoke of the memories they had, of all the ways that Will had helped them through tough times. He was a freshman. He had completed only eight weeks of high school, yet he had touched so many lives.
It seemed that our community immediately came together not only to support this family in their time of need but to do anything we could to prevent this from happening to anyone else. I had never thought much about suicide, and definitely never expected it to happen so close to home. I think the general feeling was, “If this could happen to them, it could happen to any of us,” and that scared us.
We had to get these kids to realize that nothing…NOTHING is worth this. They needed to talk to one another. They needed to know who to go to if they were feeling down. Teen suicide, a subject often avoided before, was now dinner conversation in my home and many others. The good news is, countless teens have been helped by their friends after hearing the message. My own son spoke to me about a child at school he was worried about, and because he wasn’t afraid to do so, his principal contacted the family in time to help the child. Kids are truly looking out for one another. They get it. They are telling someone, and lives are being saved.
Crazy thing is, if Will were here, he’d be leading the pack. So we will go on, keep his memory alive, do what he would have done, help his friends and anyone who will listen. This is just the beginning.
Lisa Lampel lives in Johns Creek, GA with her husband Jeff and her three kids, Jake (16), Drew (13) and Emmie (8 )
Written on October 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Gina Roberts-Grey
Why did Jack kill himself?
When our kids are little, it seems the sea of “why” questions will never end. “Mommy, why is the sky blue?” “Why can’t I have…?” and “Why do I have to go to bed?” are just a few of the daily “whys” parents of tots and toddlers wrestle with.
As the parent of a 16-year-old, I thought my days of unanswerable “whys” were long behind me.
And then one fateful evening my son’s phone started chirping and pinging with a fury that rocked his world and opened mine up to a painful set of questions I couldn’t answer. Why did one of his best friends end his own life?
The Centers for Disease Control says suicide is the third leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 24. It’s the fourth leading cause of death for kids ages 10 to 14. One in 12 teens have attempted suicide, according to the CDC, and the National Institute of Mental Health believes as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed.
All those numbers add up to significant odds that a teen’s or tween’s life will in some way be touched by suicide, yet somehow I thought, perhaps naively, that our family would be different. That my son would soar through adolescence and young adulthood without being exposed to suicide.
Why weren’t we that lucky?
I’m in snowy, but scenic, Upstate NY and mom to one 17-year-old son and three Bichons.
The hours after learning the news were filled with silence, sobs and the search for solace. My son and his friends told stories of the previous days, weeks and years with their pal. And all the stories ended the same, with a “why.”
My son asked why he won’t see his friend again. Why Jack didn’t trust him to confide how he was feeling. And why God was so unjust.
As parents, we expect to have all the answers. We assume the ability to swoop in and save the day, chasing away our children’s doubts, worries and fears. But suicide strips away our superpowers. It leaves us feeling helpless and unable to comfort or console. It robs us of ample answers.
My husband and I quickly realized that in order to serve as the pillars of our son’s support system, we needed to deal with our own set of questions, starting with, Why can’t we make sense of this for our son?
A grief counselor helped all of us realize not every “why” question has an answer. And we shouldn’t feel pressure or guilt to have an answer to every “why” question.
It’s hard to know how any child will react to a friend’s suicide, so instead of trying to answer “why” we focused on outlining support. Taking cues from our son, we gave him the room to gather with friends, an outlet to express anger, confusion and sorrow, and the freedom to not live up to expectations that included “sucking it up” and “acting like a man.” An already affectionate family, we hugged him a little more. And to listen, we said a little less. We pored over stories of Jack together. We shared laughs and tears and reconnected over pizza picnics in the living room.
We also accepted the reality that it’s okay for some “whys” to remain unanswered.
A mom to one 17-year-old son and three Bichons, Gina Roberts-Grey lives in snowy, but scenic, Upstate NY. She is a regular contributor to Prevention, Glamour.com, Lifescript.com, MSN, EverydayHealth.com, and other health sites.