How to Talk to Your Teen about Suicide and Bullying
Today’s culture of death convinces vulnerable teens that a person’s value depends upon the clothes he wears, the music he listens to, or the friends he keeps. It’s no wonder that teen suicide is one of the five leading causes of death for teens.
The euthanasia mentality is everywhere is our society. Movies like Me before You and shows like 13 Reasons Why persuade teens that death or suicide is an acceptable way to get revenge or end suffering. Social media and texting have become ways teens goad each other to suicide. With the emotional ups and downs of adolescence, teens need help discerning the moral consequences of suicide as well as understanding how they can reach out to others to show them that every person’s life has value. As you teach your teen about the culture of life, pay attention to the media he consumes. Netflix and other streaming devices can be dangerous tools in the home unless we take a proactive approach to educating our children first.
Legalized euthanasia and suicide are not really all that different. Both situations involve a person taking his life, whether he does that with the assistance of a doctor or not. Think about this: What good can suicide prevention programs do if suicide is legal and encouraged by medical professionals for people who are just “tired of living"?
Help equip your teens to stand up for their peers who are in danger of suicide. Use the following talking points and ideas to teach them about suicide, bullying, and suicide prevention.
1. Find the right time. Choose a time when you can have a conversation without being interrupted. If you aren’t sure how to start a conversation, use a recent news story as a starting point.
2. Start with words of affirmation. Remind your teen that every human being is a gift that we must treasure and protect. Each person is irreplaceable. We should make words of affirmation part of our daily routine. We need to let others, especially our own children, know they are valued.
3. Identify suicide. Emphasize that the threat of suicide is a cry for help for people in mental, physical, or emotional distress. Suicide is a mortal sin because it’s man’s rejection of the gift of life God has given him. It is our job to reach out to others and make sure they feel loved and receive the help they need. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that even though suicide is a mortal sin, God in His mercy can still reach out in those final moments to persons who have taken their own lives (see Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 2280-2283 on suicide).
4. State definitively that bullying is always wrong. Because of smartphones and the Internet, people can be exposed to bullying 24/7. No matter how or where bullying happens, it is always wrong. As pro-life champions, we have an opportunity and the responsibility to stand up for people experiencing the emotional distress of bullying.
5. Teach your teen how to stand up against bullying. Family life is the perfect training ground to practice charity, humility, and love of neighbor. Remind your teen that words can hurt. Explain that each person is responsible for his behavior. Even playful or friendly joking with one another can turn hurtful, especially if that kind of behavior becomes a habit with friends and family members. Preventing bullying starts at home, where siblings can practice standing up for others in a safe, comfortable environment by taking care of each other.
6. Give your teen an anti-bullying action plan. Encourage your teen to stand up for vulnerable people—to be an upstander, not a bystander—by speaking up for someone, giving victims a friendly word of encouragement, and seeking help from an authority figure: parents, teachers, camp counselors, etc. Encourage your teen to think about what it would be like if he were the person being bullied. The Bible tells us in Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” meaning that we should treat others with the same respect and love with which we would like to be treated.
7. Ask relevant questions. Your teen’s answers may surprise you and create the opportunity for dialogue about what’s going on in his life. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Why do you think someone would want to take his own life?
- Why do you think Hollywood makes shows and movies that glorify and romanticize suicide?
- What would you say if one of your friends said he wanted to kill himself?
- How can you prevent others from feeling alone?
8. Listen to what your teen has to say. You want your teen to come straight to you with his problems. Prove you can be a good listener to what he has to say on the subject.
9. Reiterate that it’s okay to seek help. If your teen is the victim of bullying, remind him that it’s okay to seek help from a therapist or counselor to help with the healing process.
10. Continue the conversation. Keep communication channels open by regularly talking about difficult topics like suicide, euthanasia, and abortion. You want your child to feel comfortable talking with you, not awkward or embarrassed.
Suicide is a symptom of a society that does not understand suffering and the gift of every human being’s life. Life can be unfair. Life can be hard. But you can get through anything with God’s help.
- If you think your teen may be contemplating suicide, use these tools to help you talk to him about it. Above all, seek help from a mental health professional.
- Spend time talking to your kids about the dangers of legal suicide. Our unit study Euthanasia: An Introduction exposes the truth about physician-assisted suicide by explaining what the Church teaches about euthanasia and suffering. Students have the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of three women who were faced with debilitating illnesses and determine whether or not their choices were moral. This is a great one-session introduction to talking about why we believe suicide is wrong.
- Just as you can spiritually adopt a preborn baby who is in danger of abortion, you can spiritually adopt a person who is in danger of suicide through euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, or self-harm. Encourage your teen to pray for this person every day, that he receives comfort in his distress and finds peace.
- Encourage teens to know the signs of suicide so they can find help for their friends. Share the Suicide Prevention Hotline website with your kids: suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
- Learn more about bullying and how not to be a bystander at upstand.org or stopbullying.gov.
- Get involved in one of the many suicide prevention organizations, including To Write Love on Her Arms, Project Semicolon, or You Cannot Be Replaced.