19 Things Your Family Can Do During The Covid-19 Furlough…

You might be like me and have teenage or young adult children, and be wondering what you can do now that school is out (likely for a month, maybe indefinitely), to stay active or keep them occupied while the local authorities, etc make an attempt to curtail the spread of the Corona Virus. If so, then this blog might be for you. 

I enlisted my 15-year-old son to assist me in compiling this list, my hope is that you find the activities easy enough, fun enough and applicable enough to help you bond, communicate and create memories that are sure to outlast Covid-19. 

My ultimate wish, of course, is that by engaging in these activities, your teens will feel visible, loved, appreciated and engaged by you. They will feel like their lives matter. Like they are giving back, and in turn, find fewer reasons to engage in self-harm, or hurt themselves. Studies like this one or this that cite meaningful adult-teen relationships as the backbone for resiliency and thriving in adolescents are behind my thought process in this, so I am hoping to empower you, parents, to go for it. Engage fully and unconditionally with your teens during this forced break, and I shall join you at the finish line to celebrate the victory with you. The good news is most of these activities can be done at home with little or no money spending involved. Another good news is that they will mostly make y’all feel good afterward. 

Below is a link to watch the Facebook live video I recorded concerning this, and further below is a concise list and discussion of the activities including a bonus number 20.

https://www.facebook.com/askdoctorlulu/videos/648139482586339/?t=0

Activities

1/ Go shopping together for groceries: This is a tried and tested process. As long as you are going to pick up only essentials and not purchasing more than you need. I recommend you go in and get out as fast as you can from the store. I do not recommend you purchase all the toilet paper, or all the hand sanitizer or gloves available at the store (like some people have resorted to). However, if you are stocking up to help the needy, then go ahead and do so. Don’t forget to stock up on fruits and vegetables, water, milk, and Vitamin C.

2/ Karaoke at home: I recommend you take turns with this. Each person gets to pick the genre of music and the song to sing to. Then you can switch the next day. This should be fun and will help loosen up tension and encourage easier communication. Those who would like to take it to the next level could dance instead, or better still, dance and sing together. Fun, fun, fun!

3/ Take a stroll around your neighborhood or your local greenway: For me, the outdoors are always beckoning me to come to play. I love the outdoors and never miss a chance to get out there. For some of you or your teens, you might require a little prodding. Grab your bug spray and get going. Keep the cellphones at home. This should be a deliberate attempt at bonding. Enjoying each others’ company.download

4/ Watch TV/Movies: Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon prime movies, or simply your local TV stations should suffice. I love Jeopardy, but there are very many local shows, sitcoms, comedies, etc that you could watch together and discuss lessons learned from. Remember to get up and move around every 2 hours, ensure we are not sitting for a prolonged time each session to ward off any blood clots, or unnecessary eating/snacking.

5/ Board or Card games: This list is endless; from Scattergories to Scrabble, to Dominos, to Ludo, to 5-second Rule to Apples to Apples, Chess, Uno, Monopoly, Imaginiff, Heads, Night of the Werewolf, etc These are great for creating laughs, bonding, and overall wellbeing. ***Puzzles could also be added to this list. Soduko is another brain engaging game that families could play together. Many of these can all be downloaded from the internet.

6/ Cook or Bake together: This needs minimal explanation. Even if you don’t like cooking, I think it is a great bonding tool, because you can learn together. There are many cooks and chefs like my good friend Monika who has her own YouTube cooking channel who swear that cooking helps relieve stress… and I completely agree. So, grab your chef hats and aprons and let’s go!

7/ Story Time: This is the ultimate bonding activity. You, as the adult, could go first. This right here can serve as a tool for exploring your child’s experiences at school and at home. It could help uncover bullying, or other negative experiences we know takes place at school. For instance, you could talk about “uncomfortable things” that happened to you, or “weird things” that happened, “sad things”, happy things”, “scary things”, challenging things, etc.  I learned this tool from a FB friend during one of my daily QODs that I post on FB. Haven’t heard of it? Join the fun here.

8/ Help a neighbor out: Do you live near someone who could use a chaperone, some help with grocery shopping, lawn mowing, taking out their trash, or mail delivery? You and your teen could help out around the neighborhood, teens could even make a few bucks from that. Bottom line, when they are involved in selfless activities, they are less likely to engage in self-pity, self-harm or any negative self-thoughts/talk which might lead them down the path of destruction.

9/ Volunteer: Whether it be a shelter, a group home, a habitat for humanity home, the food bank, meals on wheels or elsewhere, the act of volunteering is the ultimate act of selflessness, and a great way to bond while doing something good for someone else, thus investing in yourself that much more. In this blog from a while back, I listed volunteering as a surefire way to keep your teens active in the summer. If it works during the summer, it would most certainly work now.

“A heart that volunteers is a heart of gold” ~ Dr. Lulu

10/ Exercise: What volunteering does for the soul, exercise does for heart and body. Exercising is the ultimate team activity, and by this I mean, going to your neighborhood volleyball pitch, or taking a kickboxing class together, going to the gym together, practicing yoga, swimming, jump rope, a game of basketball, you name it, the list can only grow longer. Bring back team spirit, fun, laughter and healthy competition to your home, you will be so glad you did.

photo of girl reading book

11/ Read together: Whether it be reviewing their schoolwork, leisure reading, or learning about something together, reading is one of the best ways to bond together. Remember when you used to read to them as kids? Well, let’s bring it back. Audiobooks are another awesome way to introduce group reading (if y’all can agree on what one book you should all read together, lol). Another idea is to spin a globe around, pick a random country and everyone reads about it for a later discussion.

12/ Pray together: For those who are into prayer, it is certainly a good way to focus on others (especially those who have been affected by, or afflicted with the virus). If you’d rather not pray, y’all can set aside a special time to meditate and practice mindfulness, to center yourselves and practice self-care. In one of my recent Facebook Lives, I introduced daily pulse checks (random points in the day when you and your teens can stop and perform a gratitude self-check) to help ward off those negative self-thoughts, and encourage a more gratitude-filled spirit.

13/ Eat together: It is no secret that a family that eats together, stays and thrives together. This is one habit that is fast fizzling out (even in my own home) as we all focus on individual thises and thats. Eating/breaking bread together is a family tradition that has its inception in the stone ages. We are slowly drifting away from it thanks to technology and personal devices. But we can all make a concerted effort to reserve 1-2 precious hours for deeply bonding and getting re-acquainted with each other. 

14/ Spring cleaning: If you live in Texas as I do, you will know that Spring has sprung for some of us. Temperatures have started increasing outdoors. And it is time to open up the shed, clean out the attic, and declutter your drawers and shelves. No, I don’t think your teens will altogether appreciate this, but keep your eyes on the prize. We are creating memories here. Nothing else. So let’s give it our best shot 🙂

15/ Plant a garden: Talking about cleaning out sheds, while you are in there, bring out your farming tools, and let’s get busy planting a garden. I have a small piece of soil next to my shed with adequate sunlight where I grow everything from Cilantro to corn, to tomatoes and even peanuts. My sons helped me dig it up and place the right soil when I first started. These days, I plant the seeds and nurture the plants, while they help with weeds and such. But you can divide out the work any which way you like as long as you do it together.father-daughter

16/ Video Games: Aaaaaah, I can’t even believe I am saying this…lol. As much as I dislike video games, I am recommending this because it has become a vital part of the average teenager’s life. My boys love video games, and I know how important this is to most teens today, so, if you are like me, and your kids love to game, then it is time to leave your comfort zone, roll up your sleeves, and get bonding. Leave your insecurities about video games behind, and go forth (I believe these words are meant for me:))

17/ Call and check in on family members and long lost friends: This is one sure way to keep the kids connected and re-acquainted with your (extended and nonextended) family members, close and not so close friends. Ensure they are calling or using facetime, not texting. Let them get back into the habit of actually speaking on the phone. It might need a little getting used to, but it will certainly create and increase family closeness.

18/ Adopt a pet: Many families already own pets, if you do, then this is a chance to get closer to the pet by taking turns to bath the pet, walk the pet, clean out their cages, and such. But if your family doesn’t own one, then this could be an opportunity to visit a pet store and adopt one. Ensure the topic is well discussed and y’all are in agreement of what type of pet to get, and whose responsibility it is to care for it. Take heed from someone who now has the awesome responsibility of walking our pet, Lulu every weekday…

19/ Journal about this experience: The entire Covid-19 thing is a brand new experience for all of us. I absolutely love to journal, so, I recommend you and your teen journal about your experience through all this. How has it helped your relationship? How has it impacted everyone? Has it been worth it? Any life lessons learned? You can take turns reading your entries weekly, or you cannot if you don’t want to share. Either way, carving out a set time daily to journal would be a great addition to your daily bonding activities. 

BONUS

20/ Travel! In ending, I will ask that this should not be anything that should be expensive. It is sometimes the most exciting activity, but, as you know, this could also be a stressful time for some if care is not taken to plan it out well and deliver it right. Traveling can be a source of learning, of growing and of bonding as a family as a whole. My advice is to try all of the above options first before embarking on traveling in order to ensure that you are already very connected firmly before you do it. Enjoy!

PS: One of my favorite things to do these days is to inspire and teach parents of teens. I love engaging with them on a granular level about their parenting. After so many years as a pediatrician and parent coach, I have not only shared in your pain but also come out successful on the other side. So, I went to work, and created a handful of online courses to help you with some of the pains I have struggled with and now able to enjoy parenting by surmounting them. Check them out here, and don’t forget to share all this information with your friends. 😉

See you on the inside.

“A family that stays together, thrives together” ~ Dr. Lulu

BB

photo of people doing fist bump

Why Parents Must Lean In, Tune In and TALK…

It’s simple, but not easy. telling parents to Lean In, Tune In, and Talk to their children, especially their teens. Most teens are dealing with enough outside pressures already in today’s world, many are riddled with anxiety for various reasons, and a nurturing, protective home is what is most needed for them.

In my next week’s podcast episode (dedicated to this same topic), I begin by discussing the case of the 9yr old Australian boy with Achondroplasia who was recently bullied to the point of suicidality (and to the horror of every parent on the internet). The child was in so much anguish that he can be heard asking his mom to give him a knife that he might stab himself with it. As bad as the case is, there are rumors circulating that it is #fakenews, and that he is really an adult. This type of behavior is so inappropriate, because not only is the child already traumatized, news like that further retraumatizes him, making me wonder if indeed people are aware of just how bad this bullying problem is. Image may contain: Uchenna Umeh, smiling, possible text that says 'SUICIDE PAGES PUDCAST WITH DR. LULU'

I am speaking directly to parents and family members, school teachers, and guardians, neighbors and the entire village it takes to raise a child to become more aware, more intentional, more mindful of their communication with their teens, especially those who have been traumatized.

Teenagers (and today’s kids) already have a whole lot they are dealing with, from cyberbullying to dating violence to excessive homework to unrealistic expectations, to the falsehood of the internet, to yelling parents and misunderstandings at home. The school playgrounds and gyms are not safe, and neither are the school buses. There appear to be overwhelming opportunities for trauma to our kids, and nothing is being done about it. Imagine the news last week of a 6yr old Florida Black girl who was arrested and placed in handcuffs at school? Just how traumatic is that? And how much more trauma can one generation take? If, or when such a kid kills him/herself, we will all be too eager to send our “thoughts and prayers” and asking me why?

In my pediatric practice where I only attend to at-risk youth, it is a daily occurrence for me to see a teen or two that have a major breakdown in communication with their parents. I once had a 16yr old teen who ran away. Her mom brought her to me for evaluation. Mom was understandably frustrated and stated that she works two jobs and long hours to provide for the family, and her daughter should be more grateful. The little girl responded with “I miss my mom”. “She works for long hours and is never home, and from the moment she walks in the door, she is yelling at us-kids until she goes to bed”.

Yelling specifically, has extremely negative effects on our kids as well as us. It is possibly worse than using the belt, because it is often demeaning and associated with cussing and abusive words. As a mother and as a pediatrician (who has had my fair share of working long hours as well as yelling at my kids), and who now knows better about the negative outcomes of yelling, I am on a mission to educate other parents about these ill-effects. They range from: anxiety to depression, to negative outlooks in life, bad behavior choices, low self-worth, and low self-esteem, learning disabilities, running away, and even suicidal ideations. Worst of all, not only do these kids become yelling kids (and possibly bullies), they also become yelling parents and end up perpetuating the behavior…

Miscommunication between parents and their teens is so commonplace that it is the main reason I must continue my work in an effort to help diminish the culture of self-harm and possibly, impact the suicide prevalence which can occur as a result of perceived invisibility and loneliness by teens at home. I help bridge the gap, and help them reconnect, but, I can only do so much. I need everyone to join in. To lean in. To tune in, and TALK to our kids. Start today, put those phones and devices away…FRFR. Image may contain: 16 people, including Tasha Izzard, Uchenna Umeh and Tasha Ann, people smiling

“The act of leaning in is powerful. It is both a physical pose of accessibility and one of perceived attention by your child. It shows intention, and to some extent, vulnerability and “surrender” if you may. To Lean In, to me, means one is leading with the heart first, your body posture is attentive and inviting (picture the opposite posture – leaning back). This is NOT to be confused with the feminist movement (by author and FB COO Sheryl Sandberg).

This is purely a physical act that also leads to an emotional connection.

 Leaning in, tuning in to the right radio frequency of your child or teen, and talking with them, is something that I have discovered works well with my patients and my own teen. When you physically lean in-to your child, you enter a closer space, you show undivided attention, your ears are closer, your hands are automatically “freer”, your heart is open, and the connection is established. Your child sees and notes that your body language is welcoming to them, you are accessible and present in the moment.

It is a powerful pose.

It swings the proverbial doors of communication open, and your teen feels welcome to come in. It tells them without a doubt that they matter, their ideas matter, and their lives in turn also matter. I must mention that it comes with practice, but it is worth all of the time and effort spent on it because it gives life to a positive and nurturing relationship. After all, wouldn’t every parent’s dream be for their kids to tell them first before they ever decide to hurt themselves? If so, then we must plant the seeds early, and nurture them when the going is good, so our kids can willingly come to us at the first signs of trouble”. Dr. Lulu

Positive relationships have been cited as one of the strongest determinants for children to thrive. Children who have been traumatized need this vital relationship that much Image result for positive relationship quotesmore. The prevalence of suicides in teens in recent times is an example of how much work is needed by us, the adults in establishing and maintaining these relationships, and effective communication is the key. Studies have shown that the presence of ONE SINGLE POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ADULT can help eliminate behavior problems, foster healthy growth and potentially reduce childhood trauma or ACEs which have a high correlation with suicide/suicidal behavior. I also happen to have an online communication course…cooking 🙂

Encourage your kids/teens to reach out to you by leaving that door WIDE open for communication. Share in their little and not-so-little wins. Laugh out loud when they crack jokes. Give them a hug, a pat on the back, ruffle their hair and praise from to time. Indulge in their whacked-out sense of humor and remember they may only welcome you in for a brief minute, so enjoy it. Tell stories from your teen years, and listen to their own escapades, but avoid a judgemental tone at all costs. A quick trip to your teen years will remind you of your own yearning for validation from your parents, and that should help.

In ending, I will say, continue the good work if you are already connecting or connected emotionally with your kids and teens. Keep allowing healthy dialogues in. Institute daily pulse checks to get them to focus more on the positives and small wins on a daily bases. Check out my online class: parenting without yelling if you can, or grab an autographed copy of either of my books: my parenting book or my teen suicide book (which is the featured book of the month for the San Antonio Book Club this March) if you are looking for something fun and engaging to do this Spring or later this Summer. Join me and my friends on Facebook for my daily QODs where I engage other teen parents to share and learn from each other, or join my Facebook teen parenting group for more fun on raising teens!

Remember, your kids (teens or not) love you, trust you, and want nothing more than to please you, feel loved and validated by you. As a parent, you hold the key to making this a reality. So, go forth and be the best-darned parent you can be, and I shall see you somewhere on the internet 🙂 Don’t forget to say hello!

Ciao!

BB

“One of the best feelings in the world is to know that your presence and your absence, both mean something to someone…”   Anonymous

 

 

 

Nigeria in 10days; Becoming an International Speaker, Pt 1

“If you BElieve it, you can BE it. I BElieved it, so I AM it.”

~ Dr. Lulu®

 

“Be careful what you ask for, cos you might get it.”

I daresay I have become an embodiment of that quote. When I turned 50 in March of 2019, one of my birthday wishes was to become an international speaker. I had absolutely no idea how that was going to happen, I knew no one on any international stage, but I believed in myself, and I knew I not only had a story to tell, but also a message (an urgent one at that) to deliver.

Looking back now, the only ingredient I needed besides having the message, was the belief in myself. Many of you reading this may not know that I quit my regular pediatrician job late 2018 to start speaking on hot topics that affect our youth, particularly our teens. I had initially wanted to only focus on teen depression, but the universe steered me in the direction of bullying, and now specifically to youth suicide. With the help of social media, particularly Facebook, I am slowly becoming the go-to gal for all things concerning suicide in our youth.

As heavy as the topic is, and as difficult as the job of spreading awareness and educating the world on youth suicide is, I knew someone had to do it, and that person might as well be me. Since I love to write, my journey began with this personal blog I started, to share my thoughts and experiences with the world. I also created a website, http://www.teenalive.com, an online resource dedicated to teen wellness, and started looking into how best to get my voice and my face at the venue, at the table and on the menu.TEEN ALIVE logo

Following a suicide attempt by my then 7yr old patient in May of 2018, I decided to quit traditional pediatric practice and start speaking publicly about child and youth suicide. I had no idea how loud, or how far my voice would reach. I had no idea what the process of doing so would be. No idea how the world would receive the information, if anyone would notice, or even care. All I had was a heart full of concern and compassion for my patients and doctor colleagues (amongst others) who were choosing death over life daily.

In June of 2018, following the advice of a business coach, I recorded my very first Facebook live video. It was awkward, it was surreal, it was uncomfortable, but I did it. And I connected to an eager audience that I had no idea was out there. They included family members, friends, parents, teachers, counselors, fellow empaths and many others in between. Propelled by the success of my Facebook live videos, I started entertaining the thought of becoming first, a National Keynote Speaker, then an International Speaker. I knew my message was needed, but I had no idea how urgently.

In October of 2018, I landed my first Keynote speech on a National stage in Charlotte NC. It was for the 6th National Convention of the Black Doctoral Network, I was invited to speak on suicide in young adults. How exciting! I couldn’t believe my luck! I have heard luck defined as opportunity meeting determination and preparedness, so off I went to a very successful first National talk. That boosted my confidence SO much that I returned from that event, a changed person. To prepare for it, I watched dozens of talks on YouTube, listened to many speaking coaches, PowerPoint slide experts, and even listened to a book on TED talks! I designed and created my very first slides, delivered the talk straight from my heart, and boy did I connect with the audience! At the end, I had a long line of attendees waiting to share their depression and suicide stories with me. Through all of that, I noted I did not have a book to sell, as I watched other speakers for the event sign their own books, #wakeupcall.

After that experience, I vowed to have a book to sell at my next speaking event. I had already started working on an idea of a book on teen suicide at that time, but it was still in its infancy and it was taking me a while to get my thoughts together. I hired a book-writing coach and started putting the outline and my thoughts together on paper.A Teen's Life

In November of 2018, I landed another speaking opportunity to discuss depression and suicide in the elderly. I dedicated it to my own aging parents, and had a blast delivering it. I believe that was the day I finally decided I was officially a “speaker,” and that-that first talk in Charlotte, NC was not a fluke. But, I still didn’t have a book!

In January of 2019, my new year resolution was to add the word “Author” to my name. Early that month, I traveled to South East Asia on a class trip with my UTSA Executive MBA cohort. I knew each leg of the trip would last between 14 to 18 hours, so I decided I would use that time to finish my book. As it turned out, the book on teen depression needed a LOT of research which I was unable to pull off on the airplane, so I decided to write a short parenting guide based on one of my more successful Facebook Live videos called “How to Raise Well-Rounded Children”, the book, a bestseller, is available on Amazon.

I took advantage of the couple of afternoons we had to ourselves during the trip, to work on transcribing and writing the book, and I used most of the flight back home to edit it. Upon returning, I found beta readers who gave me their honest corrections and their blessings. With my innate dislike for computers and most things tech, it was an uphill task, but I worked really hard learning everything I could about formatting and uploading a book to Amazon KDP, and by the end of February 2019, a bestseller was born!

Enter March, my 50th birthday. I decided to host an event for parents and teens, called Dr. Lulu's PYT SA Family-2Dr. Lulu’s PYT (Parenting Your Teen) Workshop, in San Antonio, Texas. I had never done anything like that before, and I was naturally a bit anxious and a lot afraid of what the reception would be like. I wanted to have an event where parents and their teens could come together and learn how to communicate better, to avoid most of the issues that arise and often lead teens to take an unwanted turn. I hoped for 100 attendees, my speaking coach called it ambitious, but I called it dreaming big. My younger brother told me when I first consulted him about my dreams to start a speaking business that, “if your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough”, I listened, and I heard him. My dream was to host the event in up to 5 cities across the United States.

I graduated from my Executive MBA program in May with honors! I then spent the next few weeks working on planning my second PYT Workshop, this time, in Lancaster SC, where I once owned and operated a pediatric practice. It happened early June. My attendance was double that from my first, and I was overjoyed. I had speakers, poets, dancers, and breakout sessions. My heart was full, and I was encouraged to continue my quest to do a 5-city workshop event.

Later in June, an opportunity to guest-speak on a virtual international stage presented itself, and I jumped in with two feet! My audience was online and scattered across the globe. That was my first taste of the international stage, albeit virtual, and I loved it! I knew then that my original dream to speak internationally, live on a stage, was going to come true. I just had to work diligently towards it. June also had me speaking for the first time to a room full of Nigerian Physicians as a Hot Topics guest speaker!Anpa suicide talk.PNG That singular (unpaid) opportunity has opened so many doors for me!

By July, I had hosted my third installment of Dr. Lulu’s PYT, this time in Dallas, Texas. And August had me doing another one in San Antonio to round up a total of 4, one less than the original 5 I had planned (not too bad). But July was also a very special month because, it was the month that welcomed my podcast, Suicide Pages with Dr. Lulu, now available on up to 10 different platforms with nearly 3000 downloads as I write this. In keeping with my mission to create awareness for suicide in youth, I mostly interview people who are “talking their walk” with suicide, suicidal ideations or suicidal attempts. I talk with everyone and anyone kind and brave enough to share their stories with my audience.

In September, during one of my Facebook Live videos, I interviewed a young woman who is the CEO of Africa’s Mental Health Matters. A non-profit organization dedicated to spreading awareness for mental ill-health in Africa. Ladies and gentlemen, that is how I received my official invitation to be a guest speaker at their second annual convention on Mental Health in Africa, to be held in December 2019, in non-other than Lagos, Nigeria! BOOM! #InternationalSpeaker!Naija 6

November was a very special month. It marked my first ever grand rounds teaching opportunity! I was the guest lecturer at Richmond University Medical Center at Staten Island, NY. This was a ripple effect of my talk in DC, and it was never even on my to-do list…but it was sooooo welcome! I went to NY, dressed in my signature red, NY!and killed it on that stage! That already yielded follow up lecture AND, a second invite from another department in that same hospital…#success! I also started working diligently on finishing up my second book as a matter of urgency in order to have it ready for my trip to Nigeria in December.

All this while, I have continued to speak at schools: to teachers, counselors, PTAs and students. I guest speak at civic events across the state of Texas. I guest blog, and interview on radio stations, TV stations and podcasts across the country, and, I am currently looking at an opportunity to produce my own TV show in San Antonio, TX. I trademarked my brand name, Dr. Lulu, and I opened my own private practice where I only attend to high-risk teens in a direct primary care (DPC) model. Oh, and I finally completed the book on youth suicide! It’s called “A Teen’s Life.” I pulled it off, just prior to traveling overseas for my international speaking gig! It is available on Amazon and on my website: www.teenalive.com/books.

I am writing this blog to encourage someone out there to not only dream, but dream BIG! My ultimate goal is to become the United Nations’ speaker on Youth Suicide. That position does not currently exist, but, I am claiming it… I ask you to set goals and work towards them. Have an open mind, be committed and stay positive. Take feedback and allow yourself to edit your journey (as frequently as needed) along the way. Reach out to as many people as possible, and… stay… focused! Look at failures and disappointments as opportunities and building blocks, not obstacles or roadblocks. Resist the urge to allow self-doubt and negativity to come in. Don’t listen to the voices inside telling you-you are not good enough, cos they will come in and get comfortable if you allow them. Continue to forge ahead with determination, an attitude of success, AND UNWAVERING SELF-BELIEF.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this story, where I discuss my trip in full detail. See you then!

PS: “You are enough”  ~ Dr. Lulu®

BB

 

12 Myths About Suicide

grayscale photography of man sitting beside wall
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dear Blog,

I know I have been neglectful of you, and even somewhat insensitive of your needs, but I have a great reason, I promise you will be so proud of me! I am nearly done with my second book, and my days and nights have been consumed with trying to put the final touches with editing and such, you know how it is…:)

Today, I would like to share a piece of the book with you!

So, first off, the book is called A Teen’s Life. It looks at the lives of 10 different teenagers from across the globe. They are sharing their stories and struggles with me in a Dear Dr. Lulu format. I respond to their letters as best I can, and then I discuss their situations. It is statistics-heavy, it is sad and deep, but it is real. The stories are all real, but fictitious at the same time. It is essentially about youth suicide in a sense, but it is also about life, teen life. I am hoping that it serves as an eye-opener to the struggles of these youth, and hoping its readers (teens, parents, caregivers, the government, everyone) will come away with a better sense of understanding of the plight of teens and some simple but not necessarily easy solutions to tackle them.

Here is an excerpt from it. This is the portion that deals with myths about suicide. I am really proud of this…enjoy!

Before we embark on what we can all do to prevent suicide in our teens and youth, I think it is only proper to discuss some of the myths about suicide that are floating around. Debunking them will help increase awareness of their falsehood and help fill in some critical knowledge gaps.

hands people friends communication
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

  • Suicide is not a real problem; As we all know, suicide is a real problem in our world today, it is now the second leading cause of death in our youth.
  • Asking or talking to your teen about suicide causes suicidal behavior; Talking about suicide not only increases awareness and puts an end to the shame and stigma, but it also helps teens explore other options and keeps open communication lines.
  • The person/family needs more prayers and more Jesus; while having a sense of belonging to a community or spiritual group is always encouraged and actually protective of suicide it does not in of itself prevent suicide. However many suicidal persons have been known to say that when they reached out for help, they were told they were being dramatic and selfish and needed to pray more.
  • Religious persons do not die by suicide; just this past summer we heard about the young American pastor who was active in the mental health arena, who actually lost his life to suicide, there have been many others including a Nigerian pastor as well.
  • Denial: It does not happen to our ethnicity or family (Blacks, Asians); this thought process as we know is erroneous, and Black kids were recently documented as attempting and dying by suicide at a higher rate than other races.
  • Only a professional can identify a child at risk for suicide; one of the reasons for this book and my work in the suicide arena is to increase awareness by educating everyone about the signs so we are all more empowered.
  • Once someone is suicidal, they will always be suicidal; for the most part, suicidal thoughts and behavior are situational and temporary. Most suicidal persons need to know that their feelings can and do pass once they are equipped with the right tools to deal with their thoughts, and have the necessary support they need.
  • Only people with mental illness are suicidal; When I was going through my suicidal stage, I had never been diagnosed with mental illness, I did, however, experience a lot of life challenges which shook my core and caused me to consider myself a failure and not worthy of life. During the financial crisis of 2008, there was a sharp rise in suicides as a result of the enormous financial losses these people had experienced.
  • Most suicides happen suddenly and without warning; we know that 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide leave a sign. The decision to suicide is hardly ever a one-off thing, it is usually a culmination of events over time leading to “overwhelmedness”, an inability to cope, and a perceived or real lack of support.
  • Someone who is suicidal wants to die; in all honesty, most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply want their pain, suffering and despair to end. They often feel like they have exhausted all their options and they also have the means to end their lives at that moment.
  • Someone who is threatening suicide is not going to carry it out; I like to say “do not underestimate the power of determination”. We can never be too sure that someone will not carry out their threat. We must, therefore, take every suicide threat seriously. Part of the reason suicide is on the rise is because these people don’t feel they have any support, they feel all alone.
  • People who die by suicide are selfish and taking the easy way out; because these people have been suffering for a while, majority of them actually feel like suicide not only puts an end to their suffering, it also frees them from being a burden. Many suicide attempt survivors say they feel their lives are a burden to those around them.

All in all, suicide is a complex issue, but suicide prevention must be front and center in everyone’s minds in today’s world. To find out more, you will have to wait a couple more weeks for the actual book!

TTYS

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Dear Doctor, Do U DPC?

Dear Doctor,

I am sitting in my home office on a sunny Thursday afternoon, as I write this letter to you.

In the past year since I quit my full-time job as a pediatrician to start speaking on child, teen and young adult depression and suicide, (read about it here and here). I have discovered a different side of me. The side that loves to write, and speak. The side that is an activist for a cause. The side that was lying dormant until the passion to actively save the lives of children and teens through creating awareness was ignited when my then 7-year-old patient attempted to hang himself in May of 2018.

I have always known that medicine, pediatrics, in particular, is my life, and public speaking is second nature, so it was sort of a natural progression for me. I have never had any trouble speaking in public to air my opinion, so when this opportunity to practice medicine in the most preventative way picked me, I had no hesitation to say, a resounding…yes! As the good book says, “many are called, but only a few are chosen”.

Though I don’t know when it will get published, I couldn’t think of a better day to write this letter than today, the 12th day of September, two days after September 10, which is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. This week marks National Suicide Prevention Week 9/8 to 9/14. A week which eerily includes September 11, a day suicide bombers set our country on a never to be forgotten path, a day that will forever go down in infamy, in the month of September, suicide awareness and prevention month.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This letter is, however, not about suicide days and suicide bombers. It is about a path that has led me, a Nigerian-born mother of three, a board-certified pediatrician, to become a speaker, bestselling author, and activist on youth suicide. It is about how finding a new way to practice medicine is allowing me further my cause. Every time I tell people what I speak about, it never fails, they look up, and suddenly get interested, no matter what they were doing before I started speaking. Some look at me with concern, some look at me with disbelief, and yet some look at me with sorrow, especially when I tell them my story, my why, which you can read here. Usually, by the time I am done, a majority of my audience wants to know where they can find me, where I practice.

For the past year, my response to that line of questioning has been a combination of the following…” nowhere in particular”, “I don’t have a practice”, or “I quit medicine to speak publicly”. To which even more eyes look at me with a mix of wonder, pride, gratitude and amazement… and then after a brief thought, pretty much everyone says a combination of “that’s such an important topic” or “that’s so needed” or “wow, thank you for the work you are doing”, etc.

As I have continued to speak locally, around the country and internationally, and as the questions have continued to come in, I have had to finally admit to myself that I have missed practicing medicine. I have missed clinical practice, but most of all, I have missed having physical contact with my patients. Those who know me, know my patients are my “anti-kryptonite” (if that is a word). That been said, I have known in my heart that I did not want to go back to traditional medicine (what I call “assembly line” medicine). The kind that is run by CEOs with little or no knowledge of what it’s like to have boots on the ground. The kind that has enslaved us doctors and caused burnout to now become a household phrase. The kind that puts profit and the bottom line before patients and providers. The kind that you, me, we, did not sign up for. The kind we did not dream about in our days in medical school. The kind that has unfortunately driven too many of us (400 per year at last check) to early deaths through suicide. 

I knew that kind of medical practice was definitely no longer for me. So, I tried out Locums, but with my son still being in grade school, I am unable to travel out of town as much as most locum gigs would require, plus, I am only licensed in Texas so that limits me as well. I know the hospitalist route is not for me. So, while I was still pondering my next move, I happened upon a facebook group called DPC Docs. A two-thousand strong community of doctors practicing medicine on their own terms. I had actually heard of DPC about 2 years ago. Direct Primary Care. Three words that are turning out to be life-changing for those of us who care to look closer, look further and farther, think outside the box, and dare to be bold enough to say “enough already” to the big bosses and take back our lives.img_2524

I happily jumped in with two feet. You see, Direct Primary Care is exactly what Dr. Universe ordered for me. A spin-off of Concierge Medicine, DPC seeks to allow doctors to practice medicine the way it was meant to be. I had heard about it through a podcast that featured one of the true pioneers in DPC practice Dr. Josh Umbehr of Atlas MD in Wichita, Kansas. I remember excitedly running to find my spouse to tell her all about it that evening. I was so intrigued by the model, I was immediately hooked. And even though I knew the traditional medicine model I was in as an employee at that time was toxic for me, it still took me nearly 2 years to act on it. Not because the process is hard, but because I needed the right mindset and star alignment to get over the voice in my head telling me to stay put.

As soon as I decided to start back clinical practice, I knew it had to be on my own terms. My first order of business was to call the Texas Medical Board and enquire about my idea to only attend to at-risk youth aged 8 years to 18 years who are the exact population that I speak and write about. When the lady on the telephone told me I could, that was one of the happiest days of my life! Her words were something like “ma’am, as long as you are licensed to practice in this state, you can see only those born on the 5th of May if you like”. That essentially spun off my dream to open my own youth health center that would cater to the children that had picked me those many moons ago!

Do you know that it took me less than 6 weeks and cost me less than $10,000 to set up?     I have a micro DPC practice model, that means I have no front or back office, no fancy equipment, no staff, and an expected patient panel of less than 300, compared to nearly 2000 which I had at my last place of employment. The way my practice is set up, I shall see only 6-8 patients a day for up to 1hour or more per visit, three days a week, compared to 35-45 patients at my last multigroup practice employment. My monthly overhead is far less than I had when I owned a traditional practice, my EHR is user-friendly and convenient, my stress level is low, my patients are happy, and so am I 🙂

While this might not work for many, it works for me and others with a small niche. My friend, Dr. Amber Price of Willow Pediatrics up in Chicago, Illinois’s niche is only newborns. She incorporates home visits as part of her practice. Yet another friend, Dr. Sara Sultz of the DOC group up in College Station, Texas does home visits as well as telemedicine as part of her pediatric DPC practice. She even gives vaccines and IVF right there in the patient’s home! Such is the new way to practice medicine, and I am proud to be a part of it, and to announce that I am the first and only pediatrician in Texas and the US with my specific niche in this particular model.

So, what exactly is DPC? And why is #yourstruly so elated about it? Ironically, many of the doctors that I speak with have never heard about it. A few have heard about concierge medicine, but not many, much like I was a few short years ago.

In the Direct Primary Care practice model, the emphasis is on affordable care. In its purest form, no insurance or third-party payer is accepted. That right there puts the first nail in the burnout coffin! I was like “whaaat?” No insurance means; I. Get. To. See. My. Patients. For. As. Long. As. I. Want. To! Yassss!! We do encourage patients to keep their health insurance, and some practices will even generate invoices that might be reimbursed by the patient’s insurance after each visit. The model is based on a flat monthly fee in exchange for services, longer times spent with the patient, more intimate doctor-patient relationship, overall lower healthcare costs, direct access to patients both virtually and in person, improved work-life balance for physicians; thus drastically reducing burnout,  reduced patient load, and reduced administrative costs and overhead burdens. The increased intimacy with patients is a huge win for me, especially with the niche I see. Like any business, the fees vary depending on location and market competition.

The key here is; it is a membership model, much like Netflix or your gym membership. My patients have access to my cell phone number to call, text, email or facetime me whenever they need to, and they can be seen, as many times as they like to, each month! My question to you is; when was the last time you had that kind of access to your doctor? Let’s take for instance a 14 year old who is experiencing a depressive crisis at 2pm in the afternoon while at school, they would have the ability to call or text me right away, and not have to wait until they get home, inform their parent, who calls the next day only to get an appointment for the next week, take time off from work and school to arrive at the appointment, only to wait for one hour in the waiting room, and the doctor spends all of 10 minutes seeing them. Then wait another 2-3 months to get an appointment with the psychiatrist who may or may not accept their insurance, or is very likely to charge them 2 or 3 times my monthly fee for only one visit! Get it? #aintnobodygottimefordat!Placeholder Image

Some DPC doctors are set up like traditional practices with office staff,  laboratories, X-ray equipment, EKGs, and whatever else they need. Depending on state laws some also dispense medication in their practices, (Texas aint one of them…:) all for the same flat monthly fee. It’s just like a gym membership or Netflix for your doctor! In my case, for less than a cup of coffee at #Starbuxx my patients can see me everyday. Oh, and they don’t need to live in San Antonio Texas, I also have telemedicine included in the practice, so I can consult with patients virtually. Other services I am so proud we offer are a teen-2-teen support group (because teens speak teen, they don’t speak adult) and parent coaching, both of which I facilitate.

For now, I am loving DPC. It affords me time in my week to “mother” my children the way I want, be an awesome spouse to my Beloved, make time in the week to blog, work on my speaking gigs, record and edit my podcast; Suicide Pages with Dr. Lulu, The Podcast, you can subscribe, download and listen to it here and everywhere you listen to podcasts. I am finishing up my second book, a chronicle about Teen Life (my first book; a Parenting Guide, can be bought here). I have many more tricks up my sleeves in the coming weeks, so #staytuned.

In conclusion, I believe I have found my happy place in medicine again. While DPC might not be for everyone, it is for me, and it might be for you too, think about it. You never know. Here’s what you do, first start by conquering, silencing or banishing that voice telling you you can’t do it, the rest will fall in place. Ultimately, Happy Patient: Happy Doctor is what we all seek, right? Keeping it simple is what our mom’s taught us, yes?

So, I ask this time, dear doctor, will you DPC?

Me, Red Dress

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as the sea, or an ocean. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something that is better.”
― C. JoyBell C.

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The Making of My MD/MBA

Dear Blog,

 “Adult Ed is a Mother, but it’s also a Keeper!”… Dr. Lulu

Last Friday as I found myself finishing up the last day of the last week of my 27-month journey into the land of a Masters in Business Administration at UTSA, my heart was a mixture of all sorts of emotions, the strongest of which was joy! Since I couldn’t keep it to myself, I did an impromptu FB Live and literarily broke into song and dance on screen! I no longer have to stay up late studying and doing homework EVERY NIGHT. I can now stop using “school” as my excuse for everything (I really don’t want to do). I get to add those coveted three letters to the other two after my name. I can now get much-needed rest (umm, say what?) Let me rephrase that, I shall try going to bed at 11pm every night (yeah right!) I finally, realize my dream of walking on an American stage wearing the black gown and black “crown”, and as an added treat, I get to wear VA cords!

In September of 2016, my 4yr term as a Lt Col. in the United States AirForce came to an end. In deciding what to do next, I realized I had multiple options to pick from; join the Air Force Reserves, go back to school and get a Masters Degree, or get a regular job as a pediatrician. I decided to go for the last two options. And no, I had no specific “why”, I simply wanted to use the VA educational funds I was entitled to, it was more like a “why not?”. The decision was met with a combination of gasps, shock, surprise and some reluctant encouragement from friends and family. Never one to waste too much time chewing on a thought, I jumped in with two feet (before I lost my nerve) Coincidentally, my first son was about to go into college at the same time and my spouse had also decided to get her Masters degree as well…so, I was in good, no, great company! (That sh** just about cost us our union, but that’s another day’s blog, LOL)

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Later that month, as I was walking out of my job interview at Communicare Health Centers, I remember wondering to myself how I would manage a full-time work schedule and a full-time school schedule. I had initially wanted to do the combined MPH/MBA program, but FEAR and its close friend DOUBT, proceeded to discourage me and talk me out of it, so I settled for just the MBA. I was as excited as I was anxious! My colleagues, (after getting over the initial disbelief) quickly got on board and started cheering me on. I still had no idea how I was going to “manage” it, but I put my best Naija Igbo Woman foot forward (as per we no de eva carray last) and started the regular MBA at UTSA. Not online, in person, albeit, nearly 30 years post graduation from medical school, owning my own private practice for nearly 15 of those years and doing a brief 4yr stint as a Lt. Col in the US Air Force! I was going about mine backwards.

The first semester went like a breeze (or did it?) I now only remember that I had a hard time getting used to not only going back to school but also going back to school in the tech age! Just like my initial shock when I first came to the USA which I shared here in this earlier blog, going back to school, in America, was FULL of new experiences…!

Crocs store-1.jpgFirst off, I was one of, if not the oldest student in that regular MBA class! I was not happy about that at all. I hated the fact that I was in class with late teens and early twenty-something-year-olds. Their mannerisms were a total lack, they were disrespectful, noisy, lackadaisical, and sometimes rude to the professors(s). What struck me the most was their tendency to not do the work! They were very content with not showing up for class, joining in class discussions or even doing their portion of the school work at all… (I guess I am seriously old school) This bothered me so much that after that first semester, I went back to my student adviser and requested to disenroll. Luckily, she was kind enough to understand my position and suggested I sign up for the Executive MBA program instead. I was really lucky because I literally made the interview on the last day! Reminds me of a similar incident with Howard University Hospital Residency interview, I also talked about here. Thankfully, I got in! Since my paperwork was already in the school of business, all I needed was an intradepartmental transfer. She hit the jackpot with that suggestion because once I understood what an Executive MBA was, I TOTALLY LOVED the idea! However, a couple of my “friends” queried the “executiveness” of it all…”make sure it is not a watered down version of an MBA”, is it an E-MBA as in online/electronic? “are you going to have a real MBA degree when you get done?” and, “why de heck are you even going back to school, aren’t you tired?” Hmmm…how does one respond to all that love?IMG_0818

At the Executive MBA program, my cohort comprised of people closer to my age, adults. managers, business owners, entrepreneurs, vice presidents, CEOs, executives, parents, grandparents, wives, and husbands. A fair number of them were still younger than me, but the age gap was not nearly as much. The youngest in my class was 31 yrs old. They had all seen life and lived it a little. A lot of them were well-traveled. They were much more experienced and for the most part, wanted to do their school work. My kind of people. We were different, yet the same. A few were veterans like me, a few were foreigners like me, a few were mothers of kids in college like me, a few were divorced like me, and one was not only the other one Black person, he is also Nigerian like me! Awon Naija sha! I believe I lucked out!

In spite of all that, the school work was still a huge challenge for me. I had to get used to school the American way. Folks actually call their professors by their first names around here, huh? Not in Nigeria, tufiakwa! I went to medical school in the 80s, graduated in the very early 90s. We had real chalkboards, not smartboards. Our blackboards were not virtual, they were really black and physically present in the classroom. I had no concept of the word office-hours, luckily, my son who was then a freshman at Stanford University explained what that meant to me. I had no idea what it meant to access library books online, and be able to “check them out” virtually? What de? As shocking as these findings were to me, there was more to come.

IMG_0841As the only physician and one of 2 Blacks of the lot, 33 of us to be exact, I had no one else wearing my exact shoes, hmmmm. I had no one to hold on to when Statistics got tough (yea, I know, I did biostatistics in med school, so I recalled sensitivity and specificity, but certainly not Anova or Covariance Analysis) I had no one to hold on to when Accounting reared its ugly head, or when Finance got crazy (my poor mom, a retired accountant, who was visiting at that time, got a daily dose of complaints from me). As a self-proclaimed hater of numbers (except those on my paycheck and bank account) I loathe Excel…still do! First of all, I had never really heard about it, furthermore, I not only had to learn its basics, but I also had to learn to apply it to Accounting, and Finance, WHY!? All of which made for many a tear-filled day at the professors’ office. Every now and again, I did feel lonely and left out in my cohort, but my resilience and adaptability would kick in and I would win the little battles.

IMG_0800Economics was good as long as it was Macro Economics and the professor who worked for the FED was a kindly older gentleman with a thick Texan accent and a friendly smile. Still, I spent too many afternoons in his office at the high-security Federal Building downtown San Antonio. Corporate Restructuring was okay at the start until we got deeper into the mathematical aspects and calculations, then it ceased to be fun. Since I love words, Organizational Behavior was great, Ethics was a bit confusing. Marketing, Negotiations, Business Strategy, and International Business Studies were easy for me because I had no numbers to worry about, furthermore, I LOVE reading and discussions. Looking back now, one of my favorite subjects was Leadership. Not only was our professor really cool and soft-spoken, but the cases were also interesting, intriguing and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning about exemplary leaders. I learned about myself and my own flavor of leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed the final TEDx talk we each had to give at the end of the class. Oh, my talk was on the power of the word, NO.

One of my favorite experiences during my business school was Executive Coaching. As a matter of fact, I owe my executive coach, my entire career journey today.  She is one cool Chica. She used to work for NASA, so she is equal part brains, beauty, class, and control. I absolutely admire her poise and her presence. She exuded knowledge and she helped me figure out who I am/was, and what I wanted to do with my life after school. Truth be told, I only signed up for the MBA partially because the VA was footing the bill, and partially because I used to counsel my subordinates in the Air Force to take advantage of the GI Bill and Post 911 educational grants and go back to school and further their education. I never even thought I could do it, but I had to heed my own advice.

Singapore 4.jpgI must say the highlight of our entire MBA experience was the 12day international trip to South East Asia! A trip that cost me the attendance of my youngest brother’s wedding in Nigeria, which just happened to have been scheduled for the exact same day. We left San Antonio bright and early that January morning and went through LAX. The 17hour flight both ways was no match for the excitement I felt in finally seeing the world famous Singapore and Vietnam! I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember listening to the song “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, so, this was a sort of homecoming for me. Singapore, a country born with a golden spoon, is eating its cake and having it too. It is an example of how hard work pays off no matter what. Vietnam, a country that is well on its way back from the ashes of multiple wars, betrayals and “destruction of men in their prime, whose average age was 19” a la Paul Hardcastle in his Jazz Masters hit (one of my faves).  After everything she has been through, her people still wake up every morning, practice Tai Chi, get on their motorcycles and ride!

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I cannot put in words the excitement of Singapore! Its clean streets, ultramodern Singapore 2.jpgarchitecture, eclectic suburbs, fine dining, high-end shopping, educated minds, and multiracial indigenes all living harmoniously in spite of differences in religion, language, customs, cultures, etc. A hard lesson for all African countries to learn (sadly). Singapore welcomed me with open arms. I even got a chance to sing old Karaoke tunes with a local band at a local pub! Vietnam was different. More real, dirtier, noisier, almost “happier” than Singapore. Our class got to visit the Crocs factory, eat with the locals in a traditional Vietnamese home, and take a canoe ride on the river to the coconut village, where my sense of smell was completely mesmerized by the indescribable smells of coconut. Since my wife is part Island girl, and I am the quintessential Tropical Chic, this, was HOME! I was immediately taken back to my childhood, my grandmother’s hut…her smell, her heart, the essence of her being my Nne Akuobu.  As unbelievable as the trip was, I topped it up, by finishing the final edits of my first of many Amazon bestsellers on the plane ride home! BTW, get your copy on Amazon or on my website, it is the best parenting book ever! 😉Singapore 3.jpg

I shall miss school. I have always been studious. I have always had a quest for knowledge. Though old age is setting in and my memory is not quite as good as it used to be. I am proud to say that I completed the MBA and can now print out my new business card with all five letters in their proper order MD/MBA 🙂 I earned it. Considering I got the degree after I have already been in private practice for nearly 30yrs, and considering I have no idea what I am going to do with it…yet, I am still thankful for all the potential doors it will open for me. I admit I had NO WHY, I simply did it because I could, because the funds were available through the VA, and because I might have needed to prove to myself that I still gat it after all these years, or simply because…

In ending, I would like to say; just like that, my 27month program is done. Was it hard? Yeah! Is it doable? Hell yeah! Can you do it? All day! So follow your heart, try something new, push yourself. No one ever died wishing they spent one more day playing a round of golf. This is my legacy, what is yours? What is holding you back from following and fulfilling your dreams? Work? Kids? Family? What are your priorities? Are they in proper order? Remember, life is what happens while you are busy planning…so get off your phone, get off your couch and just do it! If I could do it, with my schedule, you can do it too! Peace still.

My name is Uchenna Umeh, MD/MBA, and I approve this message.

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Is Your Child THE BULLY? 5 things every parent must do NOW!

Dear Blog,

Happy New Year…I only wish my heart was happy as I write these words this morning. The title of this blog literally pulled me up from bed, begging to be written, so here goes.

We see them on the news every day, we see them on social media every time we look at our handheld devices. Headlines: “X-year-old boy hangs himself, X year old girl found hanging in her closet” “X-year-old teen dies from self-inflicted injuries”. The headlines are not the problem though, read a few lines down and you will see them, the unmistakable words “after years or months or even weeks of being bullied” BEING BULLIED? by whom you ask yourself, then it never fails, the words, by his or her peers follows every time, and I am sick of it!

I am sick of the fact that small children are now more pre-occupied with bullying each other than playing in the sandbox or with their X-Box. Even when they do play in said sandbox or on the X-Box, they are bullying each other. They are teasing each other, they are making fun of each other, and not in a nice way, in the worst possible ways, saying the worst possible things to themselves. I often speak of how another 12-year-old child once told my then 12-year-old son “when God made you, He left you too long in the oven and you got burned” referring to his skin color. How does a 12-year-old come up with those words? Sadly, the vocabulary is now even worse, they have now progressed to calling names like “bitch” and “slut” and phrases like “go kill yourself”, and “die now” as in the case of McKenzie Adams, a 9-year-old child from Alabama who hung herself in her closet last December after months of bullying by other 9-year-olds. 9-year-olds? What do they know? How did they come up with so much meanness and hatred in their hearts and mouths and fingers? Where will a 9-year-old child find such racist statements as those that were repeatedly uttered to this poor little girl? Where are their parents when all of this is happening? Who are these people?

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As if that were not bad enough, just yesterday, the news broke about little Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old boy who not only had a medical condition that required him to wear a colostomy bag (and need multiple surgeries to live) about which he was repeatedly teased, he was allegedly called the N-word and “choked” on the bus by his “bus-buddy” for simply being himself. Where do I start? Who are these 10-year-olds and who are their parents and family members? What examples are we setting for them? How are we handling our home environments? Where are they learning this hatred from? What exactly is going on in our homes, in their heads, in their hearts?

It is easy to blame the teachers and counselors and the school system for not “checking the bullying at school”, but what about at home? What is happening there? Are we as parents now simply having children and leaving them to be raised by others? As a part of the village it takes to raise children, I must say, it is not my primary responsibility to raise yours for you, just as it is not yours to raise mine. We MUST as parents, stop and retrace our steps. We MUST accept our own responsibilities and accept the roles we are playing or not playing when it comes to raising our kids right. We MUST accept our own fair share of blame and then, maybe, we can seek to rectify. We MUST as a matter of urgency resist the urge to play the blame game. Enough already.

Earlier this week, the news broke about the suicide streak in Australian teen girls, a total of 5 girls aged 12-15 years have taken their lives since the beginning of this year, 2019. Blaming everything from child abuse and neglect, to sexual abuse, to poverty and even poor governance, nowhere does this article mention bullying, however, Rochelle Pryor’s last Facebook post clearly stated: “once I’m gone, the bullying and racism will stop”. This shows that even when reported, the news can sometimes be skewed, further compounding the problem and delaying any solutions.

As a pediatrician, child advocate and teen expert, the least I can do is join my voice with others trying to make a difference, to put an end to bullying by our children, at school, at home, at work, and wherever else it might be. Here are five (5) things every parent must do, today, now, in order to help in the fight to end suicide from bullying.

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TALK to yourself. Start at home. Check your life. It is the mirror through which your children look at life. How are you living it? What kind of language are you using when you refer to people of other races, or other convictions different from yours? Is there some domestic violence or abuse going on in the home? Is there name calling? Are you putting yourselves down in front of your children? Do you argue a lot? Should you be in counseling? Do you speak to your children about what they should not be doing or saying in school? Do you even know your children and who they hang out with at school or at play? We must realize that if our kids are the bullies, it might not all be their faults. They might be needing some love, we might be needing to change the way we are doing things at home. They might need counseling or therapy. I recommend we watch this 2006 movie about 5th graders called “how to eat fried worms“, it touches on bullying at home and some of its consequences.

TALK to your children. We are going to have to tackle these questions head-on. Ask them the question directly, “are you a bully at school, on the bus, at the playground, on the internet, in your group chat?” Explain in the simplest terms what you mean by those words. My youngest son was a member of a group chat where some name-calling was going on one time, I saw it when I looked through his phone. I addressed it, made him report it to the school authorities, and he lost his phone privileges. He had not participated in the name-calling, but he had said nothing in the child’s defense either. 70% of children are bystanders when bullying is going on. The child being picked on in the group chat has Tourette’s syndrome, a disability he cannot help. And my child’s behavior was not good enough for me. Ask your child if he or she is bullied, or if they are bystanders when bullying is going on. Ask them what they do if or when they observe bullying going on. Now, if your child is neither the victim nor the bystander, maybe he or she is the bully. Go through your child’s room and their things, see if they happen to have stuff that does not belong to them. This might be a sign.

TALK to their friends. This means we have to know their friends, and better yet, their friends’ parents. When my youngest son David, 14, had some issues with bullying at school, (he was having a hard time transitioning after his two brothers went off to college) one of his friends’ had told his mom, who in turn told me. He had taken someone else’s lunch and eaten it, and lied about it, among other things. Ask their friends directly if they are bullies, or if they know any bullies in the neighborhood, or if they themselves are bullies. We must be seen as part of the community when it comes to raising our children. I had to have a chit-chat with David’s friends a few weeks ago after I overheard him say to David, “if you don’t come out and play ball with me, then you are gay”. I was like, “what?” Apparently, the kid had wanted to play ball with him but David had made an excuse about having to finish up his homework and needed a rain check. After a little tet-a-tet with the young lad, we fist-bumped and I went along my way, content that at least for that moment, I had stopped that line of thinking.

TALK to the school. Yes, of course, the school is the extension of the home. After taking care of the home front, we must engage the school. Most of the parents of these children we read about had frequent engagements with their kids’ schools. We have to ensure that the school sees us as a present parent. You must be all about your child’s business. Get to know your child’s teachers, get to know the counselors. Get to know their coaches, their dance instructors, their tutors. Anyone who imparts any kind of knowledge on your child you should get to know. Believe me, that will make a huge difference in the end. Imagine your child was about to bully someone, the fact that they know – you know their teachers so well will put a bit of a hindrance on that tendency. Furthermore, the teachers will be your second set of eyes and ears when it comes to guidance and assistance with your child. Having an alliance with your child’s teacher can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, we hear lots of stories of how the schools in some cases claim they had no idea any bullying was going on. Like the case of 8-year-old Gabriel who was knocked out in the school bathroom by bullies a few days before he hung himself.

TALK to a healthcare provider. If you do find out that your child is the bully (and believe me, this happened to me) Talk to someone. Talk to someone right away. Get them counseling. That made a huge difference in my child. It helped us realize and understand the reasons behind his actions. There are licensed therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians like me waiting to help you and your child. I understand that we never want to believe our children are capable of such horrific acts we read about in the news, but, they are. We have to change our mindset about that. We must do the needful and help them because the bully often resorts to that behavior as a result of their own inside pain and stress and trauma and insecurities. They too sometimes may have been a victim and as such, need some love and understanding and care. Let us remember that babies are born, innocent, then life happens. We do not of all things want to be the parent of the child who was in any way responsible for the death of another. So, pick up the phone, make that appointment and speak to a healthcare provider about your child, the bully, you’d be glad you did.

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An edited and truncated version of this blog was accepted as a guest blog post on Successful Black Parenting Magazine, check it out here.

BB