And what to do about it
One of the only positives that I see about our collective mental health is the decrease in teen suicide. Three years ago we were at absolute critical mass with this issue and sadly, most 'adults' were troublingly indifferent about it. Sadly, most adults only seemed to start caring when a teenager close to them ended their life and I've desperately wished over the years that people would care about this issue before they find a dead kid and I've had to accept my own powerlessness in whole thing.
When I really got involved with this issue and starting talking to teenagers about it, asking them questions and really taking the time to listen I become acutely aware of one troubling truth. Modern teenagers don't trust adults. They don't see adults as reliable allies that will genuinely do their best to offer a helping hand. Whenever I encountered a suicidal teenager, one of the first things out of their mouth, almost across the board was, "please don't tell my parents." In fact, the most common thing that we hear from parents that lost a teenager to suicide is, "we had no idea..." Kids just go to great lengths to hide this from their parents who are, in turn, totally blind sided either by an attempt or a successful suicide. It's deeply troubling when you realize that for a struggling or suicidal teenager, the last thing they want is for their parents to be involved.
I can already feel parental defensiveness going up when my intention is only to offer an honest and a "no bullshit" assessment of what the problem is and what needs to change. I know parents care about their kids but I also know that some of them need a rude awakening, they need to get outside of themselves and see this through any other lens instead of the "what about me" lens that so many of them are accustomed to and that so many of them don't realize they are doing it. Often times, thinking about themselves in regards to their child's behavior is the only thing they know how to do. In all honesty, there just aren't enough parents out there that have learned to think about their children in any other way than through their own story.
Control is abuse
This is the generation of controlling mothers and absent fathers. There I said, phew. Parents are just to controlling these days and I'm sorry moms but you are the ones far more guilty of this than dads as a general rule. Parents are controlling because they're worried and afraid. Worried and afraid parents aren't just controlling, they also have a strong tendency towards anger and being punitive and kids know it. It doesn't matter what issue they're having and what kind of help they need, the response is always the same. Anger and punishments. Struggling to understand math and falling behind? Anger and punishments. Depressed? Anger and punishments. Suicidal? Anger and punishments.
Not to mention that most parents are catastrophically bad listeners. It's just normal now. People don't wonder if they are doing a good job of listening, they are just following followers and doing what everyone else is doing. A kid needs a parent to listen, practice empathy, support them and allow them to make mistakes and fail inside of a safe relationship. And what they get is yelling, lectures, rules and punishments. It doesn't take long for them to learn this lesson so profoundly that it's no wonder they grow up and develop a state of obstinate refusal to include their parents in their struggles if it can be helped.
When it comes to communication, what I see extremely often is that parents basically have one tool in their toolbox when it comes to talking to their kids and it looks like this.
"How was school?" Asks the parent.
"Fine." The teenager mutters while staring at their phone."
"Do you have any homework?"
Dead end. Stone walled. That's what parents are reporting over and over to me. They are being stone walled and honestly, it's partially because their kids resent them for being so controlling. Tracking their kid everywhere they go, going through everything on their phone and yelling at them for any degree of deviation from what the parent wants and what you get is a giant barrel full of resentment and spite. They aren't going to talk to you in this case, that's just the truth.
You must make some changes
Parents can usually tell when something is bothering their kid and the sad truth is it could be anything from getting bullied, being sexually assaulted or anything in between, they aren't going to talk to their parents and as soon as the parents ask them about it, the real stone walling kicks in. Kids will dig in their heels and with hold talking to their parents sometimes even because they want to hold this against their parents. If your kids know you want something from them, they are going to deliberately hold onto it.
The good news is that this is not permanent. It's not static. It can be addressed and repaired. It can be changed and fixed. I have worked with teenagers for so long that I've developed specific skill sets for effective parenting and it starts with listening.
You don't listen with your mouth - With all due respect, and I sincerely mean that, if your relationship with your teenager is rocky then you probably need to shut up. You probably talk way to much. You don't listen with your mouth. Stop telling them how to think, how to feel and what to do. We all need people to listen, understand and validate us. Including and especially your kids.
Take personal accountability - It's up to you set the tone for your relationship and own up to your mistakes. Your teen will respect you far more if you do this and that will help break down the barriers. Tell them you are sorry for your past mistakes and tell them you are committed to changing.
Commit to changing and show it - Talk is cheap. If you're really determine to do better then don't talk about it, just do it. Your actions will speak volumes.
Stop making things about you - Think about your child and what it's like for them. Practice empathy and walk a mile in their shoes. What kind of parent did you wish you had when you were that age? Are you that parent?
"Let's taco about it" - Kids are far more likely and talk openly if you create and support a more conducive environment and provide safe opportunities. If you can tell your kid is really down, don't ask them about go 'taco about it' which means just take them to get tacos or warm crispy french fries. Play a game with them, go for a walk, go do something fun and open that opportunity up. Create a relaxed atmosphere. The best outcome is for your teenager to open up voluntarily and tell you what's going on. That's what you're aiming for. If they do open up to you, you must respond in a supportive way. For crying out loud, whatever you do, don't get upset or angry and please please don't punish them. I've just seen to many parents that respond to a suicidal teenager by grounding them, taking away their driving privileges and restricting them from their friends. This is the worse possible thing you can do.
This whole process usually needs a lot more fine tuning based on the fact that teens and adults are their individuals and each situation has it's unique properties. I love helping parents mend their relationship with their teen, it's some of the most rewarding work that I do but it requires a parent that is willing to think about someone other than themselves and who is willing to change. Those are the parents that get results and I hope that you will give me the opportunity to show you how much good can be done in your family.
Your kids need you. Desperately they need you. And they need you to show up for them in the right ways but it has to be up to you. I hope that you will let me help you walk this path.