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

 

 

 

To Bryce…

 

“…he was acting strange, talking a mile a minute, and kept asking his mom large questions about life. He wanted to know if she and his brothers would be OK in his absence.”      ~South Florida Sun-Sentinel

In my brand new Amazon bestselling book, A Teen’s Life, I discuss teen suicide to the best of my ability. One of the teens in that book is Damiko, a football player who finds himself on the wrong side of the law, after making some tough decisions to help him deal with life’s curveballs, mainly to help his family. He naturally begins to doubt himself and ends up on the suicide spectrum. This is a not too uncommon thought-process and mindset for most of us when we are feeling overwhelmed, anguished and trapped amongst other things, as life continues to deal (as it likes) with us.

I begin with Damiko’s story because it is what I am calling “real” fiction. Just this week, we saw my fiction imitate real life in none other than Bryce Gowdy, a football star on his way to the top, with a full ride to Georgia Tech. A life cut short by train tracks. A life cut short by suicide.

While reading his story in the news outside the post office a few days ago, I kept yelling “he left signs!” “He left signs!”…repeatedly, as I cried my eyes out.

Yes, that poor kid, my son, our son, left signs all over the place, but unfortunately, those around him did not know them, or did not recognize them, and thus did not act.

Several weeks ago, another Florida teen walked into another pair of train tracks to his death. (“His death contributes to the roughly two teens in Florida who take their lives each week, and is the second in about a month to do so by train”.)

While most news often connect mental illness to majority of suicides, it is unclear if our latest victim of suicide contagion (defined as the process by which the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide can result in an increase in suicidal behaviors and suicide in persons at risk, usually adolescents), had any issues with mental illness in his past (no diagnosis is stated), what we do see though, is that he suffered from severe mental anguish (aka emotional distress) and despair in his last days. (Despair is defined as a profound and existential hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness and pessimism about life and the future. Despair is a deep discouragement and loss of faith about one’s ability to find meaning, fulfillment, and happiness.)

This article is not meant to argue about mental illness, and its contribution to suicide, it is, however, meant to showcase the fact that most suicide victims DO suffer severe mental anguish with severe reactive depression (aka situational depression) following significant life’s trauma, which in Bryce’s case was extreme poverty and homelessness. These factors confounded the natural anxiety he was already experiencing about leaving his suffering family and going off to college (college jitters), and the helplessness he felt about his inability to “save his family”.

If you are reading this, then you would agree that it was all a bit much for anyone, let alone a young adolescent.

So why does anyone kill themselves?

Image result for bryce gowdy

Why did a young gifted and talented athlete do this? The truth is that ultimately, we may never know his real reasons. However, a psychological postmortem would definitely bring in all the above factors and maybe even unearth more.

What role does resiliency (or the lack thereof) play in suicides? Are suicide victims truly weak? Are they truly “quitters”? Like a friend mentioned on a Facebook comment recently. Is it truly easy to end one’s life?

As one who has struggled in my past with suicidal ideations (SI), I know just how hard, overwhelming and lonely that street is. I know that the world looks at you with tinted lenses when you mention that “S” word. I know all the stigma, shame and silence that accompany it. I know no one wants to talk about it. Ironically though, talking about it is just what this doctor orders. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has the #silencekills and #talksaveslives hashtags for this particular reason. We MUST talk about these issues. We must call its name, SUICIDE, so as to take its sting and strength away, or at least diminish them.

*In teens specifically, adolescence brings unique challenges that often confound life’s experiences, so they have a tendency to succumb easier to SI.

IS PATH WARM is a mnemonic used to list the signs of suicidal behavior, but, I am quick to state that in youth like in our young teen, Bryce, signs might not be as organized or as obvious. Simply acting differently from the norm; becoming more agitated, giving away their stuff, asking and verbalizing about death, losing sleep, becoming more reckless, buying a gun, writing a suicide note, becoming suddenly happier, calmer, or simply saying goodbye, etc, could be signs of suicidal behavior. We as parents and as adults around them must be vigilant. The list below is of factors that lead to suicidality in youth, an excerpt from A Teen’s Life.

● A history of bullying ● Relationship issues like breakups ● Previous suicide attempt* ● LGBTQ+ sexual orientation ● Access to lethal weapons in the home ● Behavior problems like ADHD/ADD ● Poverty ● Socioeconomic/sociocultural oppression ● Institutional racism ● Lack of access to treatment and support for mental illness ● Substance Abuse ● Microaggressions like police brutality and racial profiling ● Social Media ● Lack of Support at home and at school ● Suicide in peers and in the community (suicide contagion) *A prior suicide attempt is the strongest risk factor for a suicide death*

Reading the article, it was quite obvious that he was faced with what appeared to be “unsurmountable” life’s challenges to him. If he had only waited a few more days. If he hadn’t had that train track beckoning. If he only knew the future…if, if, if. But, he had no way of seeing the future, he had no way of knowing the outpouring of love from the world to his family following his ultimate sacrifice. He had no way of knowing how much I cried when I read his story. He had no way of knowing that much like his mother, I also have three sons, and I am a Black woman in America, and I care. For him, at that moment, he felt he had used up all his options, and death was the only choice he had…and then there was a means: a train, and a history of a recent teen death by another train.

A brave child who carried the weight of his family’s troubles on his young shoulders. A brave soul who wanted the best for his family. A boy, a teen who actually reached out, but not quite far enough to save him. A young man seeking answers, but finding death in its stead. We preach reach out all the time, the question then becomes, “what if folks reach out and no one responds?”

Apparent unsurmountable life’s challenges, feelings of entrapment, overwhelmedness, helplessness, and hopelessness…these are the ingredients for suicide.

RIP Bryce, you fought the good fight.

Image result for bryce gowdy"

“Parents, please, know the signs of suicidal behavior. Our kids DO leave signs”

~ Dr. Lulu®

 

 

BB