PARAMUS, N.J. -- According to The Jason Foundation Suicide , a nationwide non-profit built around the awareness and prevention of youth suicide, teens in grades 7 to 12 are taking their own lives at alarming rates due in large part to social media and online bullying.
The only "good" news -- if you can call it that -- is that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
Which means parents, coaches, teachers have an opportunity to step in and help.
Dr. Sam Von Reiche, a licensed psychologist and media expert in Paramus describes our child rearing culture as encouraging a kind of "double-bind." On the one hand, we overexpose middle schoolers to adult subject matter (including sex and violence) they may be unable to handle through social media, technology, movies, music, etc.
On the other hand, we infantilize them with too little real life responsibility, too few limits, and an overemphasis on academic success and sports rather than emotional wellness and life success.
"We take for granted that a kid of 11 or 12 is not going to be affected by watching a show like 'Family Guy,' but the fact is, they can absorb the wrong messages that they can't yet critically evaluate," warns Dr. Von Reiche.
"How can we protect our kids at a time when they're exposed to a 24/7 world of online, video game and TV content?"
Furthermore, because social media is ever present, cyber bullying has become 24/7, too. "A kid can't just go home to escape it the way I did when I was ten," she says.
Which is why she suggests creating a climate of openness as a way to bridge the gap. "How much do you talk to your kids? And more importantly, how much do you a cultivate a situation where your kids will talk to you?" she asks.
"Think about the ratio of criticism and lecturing versus truly listening and asking questions so you can really hear what they are saying."
"A lot of parents think they are being supportive but instead, they are doing a pleasant version of lecturing. Your child very often just wants to be listened to."
If your child is not forthcoming, encourage him to talk to his friends, teachers, and coaches. she advises. Look at the whole circle around your child and do your best not to personalize it because your kid is not coming to you first. They often don't. Then make sure that you maintain an open line of communication with school personnel and the parents of your child's friends.
Dr. Sam, as she likes to be called, argues that the educational system should offer more programs to prepare teens for appropriate peer responses if they are approached by someone who may be at risk of suicide.
It's all part of teaching kids to be responsible citizens so they know how to seek help when, for example, they see a friend post something alluding to suicide or self-harm. These same strategies can be used to help kids who are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, struggling with cutting or any mental disorder.
Adults also need to be aware of signs their middle schooler may be in trouble. Look for a sudden change in mood or behavior, social withdrawal either at school or home, a lack of interest in things they usually enjoy, or a change in grooming, eating or sleeping habits. Don't be afraid to talk to their friends and those parents they spend the most time around.
"Take your child for an evaluation by a licensed therapist experienced in dealing with children and adolescents if you don’t feel confident you are getting all the information you need," suggests Dr. Sam. If you believe you middle school child is at risk of suicide or self-harm this is mandatory action to take as soon as possible.
And consider other options. Natural child-friendly supplements (fish oil is a great example, and is available in good tasting flavors), assessing dietary changes that can decrease stress, and neurofeedback (painless brain training that can decrease anxiety) are all great alternatives, she says.
Go to www.drsamvonreiche.com/ for more information.
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