“Fine! If you don’t let me (fill in the blank), I will kill myself.”

Whoa. If your child dares to utter these words, they are sure to get your attention. And you know what? These words are meant to. Kids who threaten to hurt or kill themselves should be taken very seriously. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults. Third. And it shockingly ranks in the top twenty causes of death in kids aged 5 to 9.

Unfortunately, the recent onslaught of media coverage around Paris Jackson’s suspected suicide attempt has really missed the point. Instead of focusing on why this 15-year-old allegedly took up to twenty pills and cut her arm, we should be focusing on why she possibly believed this was her best option. What’s driving young people to decide that their only way to make a point in this world is to make their way out of this world?

As parents, we place such a high priority on protecting our children and teens from outside threats, that we may miss the threat teens present to themselves. The teen brain is not fully developed until most kids hit their early twenties.  As a result, you may find that your teen makes decisions that are reactive, impulsive and, yes, dangerous.

Every action a teenager makes means something. If we listen and pay attention, they will make us aware of the underlying significance. So what should you do? Just that: Listen, act and take a threat or action of self-harm seriously. Do what someone in the Jackson household did. Recognize the real or imagined threat of self-harm as an emergency. Call 911 and let a mental health care professional make an assessment. Lose the stigma of being overly concerned about “’other people being in your business” and get your child and your family help. The life you save may be your teen’s.

Has your child ever threatened to hurt him or herself? How did you handle the situation? Post a comment and share your story here.

Need help with your child? Try contacting:

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.