Lately I’ve been thinking about a difficult subject…teen suicide. There are simply too many of them. Even one is too many. Too many kids who believe they have no hope, life is worthless, they are worthless. None of that is true. But how do we as adults convince them of that?
I think part of the answer might lie in teaching teenagers to grieve and giving proper respect to the tough moments in their lives. I know we have the perspective of many more years of life, but for them, this moment is all they have. The problem is they dwell on these moments until they are consumed, and then they convince themselves nothing else matters.
Just the thing… THE. ONE. THING.
Maybe it was a girl or a boy that has broken their heart. Maybe it was a sports dream dashed by injury or illness. Maybe their parents are in crisis mode, and they know more than the parents realize. Maybe their grades aren’t up to expectations. Maybe they did something completely out of character and don’t know how to deal with it. Or maybe someone has died, and they don’t know how to cope with their emotions.
They just don’t know how to deal. Period. That’s where we come in.
As moms, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and other women of influence in the lives of teenagers, we must help them see a deeper perspective of their pain and the hope that lies beyond the moment they are currently experiencing.
They just don’t know how to deal. Period. That’s where we come in.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b. You and I know, however, that the night can be excruciatingly long. Tears come by the buckets even with the strongest of us, yet typically we understand that joy will come again. Even with the death of a spouse, parent, or child, we have come to know from watching others that we can come out on the other side and begin to live our new normal. But we get there likely because of two factors:
1. We’ve been around people who have suffered loss and have seen their healthy process, or
2. Someone was there to help us walk through the valley, to encourage us and to give us hope.
In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, verse 4, Paul says, “God…who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” If we have received comfort in our time of need, it is our responsibility to minister to people who are hurting. That includes the young people in our lives.
What are some ways that we can lovingly and practically guide a teenager through a deep valley? Here are some suggestions:
1. Don’t downplay their pain. Proverbs 18:14 – “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Maybe it was a breakup, and as an adult you knew that it was inevitable. Maybe you were relieved because that person wouldn’t have been your first choice for your kid anyway. But none of that means that your teen isn’t truly, deeply grieving. Loss is loss, and loss hurts. The simple truth is, you don’t know what words were spoken in the bliss of youthful infatuation, what senses were tapped, what dreams they dreamed together. Combine all of that with the range of emotions even a healthy, happy teenager is feeling, and you’ve got a potion for pain. We may be tempted to say something like, “Don’t worry. There are plenty of other girls out there! Don’t waste your time crying over her.” Or, “I never liked how he treated you anyway. I’m glad you broke up.” Instead, acknowledge that the pain they feel is real. Allow them to feel the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). You may even want to explain to them that the emotions they’re feeling are grief, and that it is normal and natural to feel the way they’re feeling.
2. Don’t attempt to hurry them through the pain. Job 16:6 – “Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away.” If your teen is still moping around days after the incident, be patient! Pray for them and with them. Continue to speak encouraging words to them. Cut them some slack.
I’m a mom, and I can’t stand it when my kids are hurting. I want to fix it and fix it now. My husband and I actually tried to keep our kids from experiencing emotional distress as much as possible, but it’s unavoidable. Their grandfathers and other loved ones still died. They still got their feelings hurt. They didn’t get the part every time. We moved from one state to another, leaving behind close family and friends. They knew pain, and they knew it early on. And I couldn’t fix it quickly. But, thankfully, time and experience helped me to help them through the grief. It took TIME…lots of time. Weeks and even sometimes months, depending on the level of pain. And that’s ok. As a family we have always come out on the other side intact. That’s a blessing of God.
3. Don’t try to force them to feel well again. Proverbs 15:13 – “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” You can convince them to put on a happy face, but what are they doing with the emotions inside of them? Are they stuffing them down? Instead, validate them and their feelings. Instead of saying, “Hey, just get over it. Life goes on” say, “I know you’re hurting, and I want you to know that I’m praying for you and want to help you through this time.” It may be awkward or sound sappy, but it may very well open the door through which you and your teenager walk through to wholeness again.
4. Do speak Scripture to them. 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” I have learned over the years that my words may be helpful, but they can’t give life. Only the Word of God can give life and actually cut to the heart of the matter. Here are a few verses to consider speaking to them, encouraging them to memorize, and praying over them:
I’m a mom, and I can’t stand it when my kids are hurting. I want to fix it and fix it now.
What do we do though, when we have done all we can to help our teenager through a difficult time and yet we fear they are still on the brink of life and death? Certainly professional counseling may be the best next step. Seek out someone who is trained to work with youth specifically, whether it’s a pastor or licensed counselor. Please don’t allow yourself to think that getting outside help is going too far or that it’s too expensive. Perhaps your employer offers an “Employee Assistance Program” that you can take advantage of, or maybe your church offers counseling services at a reduced cost. What matters is getting your kid the help they need.
I truly believe that all the high drama that’s readily available today has only added to our stress. It’s only been in my generation that the term “drama queen” has come into being! Maybe your teen is a drama queen (or king) and everything is a big deal to her or him. Maybe your teen is sullen, and you don’t have a clue what he’s feeling. The expression on his face doesn’t change much no matter what the circumstances. Regardless, when you know there has been a loss or hurtful event of any kind, step in and offer love and patience. Offer peace. Offer the comfort you’ve been given, because you were given it to be able to share it with others.
More on teen suicide here Surviving the Shadowlands of Teen Suicide. You can also read about how to comfort someone with depression in When Someone You Love is Depressed.