Suicide and Teens: Coaching Your Child to Coach their Friend

I'm not going to lie. It can be a pain being married to a counselor. For one thing, it's the eyes- laser penetrating compassionate eyes that say, "I know babe. There's so much more in there. Just let it out." When you don't.want.to.let.it.out! Then you find yourself using words normal people don't use such as space, trigger, and deescalate or diagnosing friends even though you've never read the DSM. Not to mention the fact that 80% of his day you know nothing about and never will.

But then there are the times when having a live-in therapist is really useful, maybe even a life saver. For instance, when the girls would rather be "cliented" by Dad instead of running through the saga with me again. Or when he can break through to my friends and bring out the tears and then love them like a big brother.

Or the time he coached our tween daughter how to handle a live suicide threat via text.

I've already written about how to talk to your kids about suicide. It is alarming how close and personal this is, how young they are attempting, and how pervasive the threat. A few months ago, two 11-year olds committed suicide in our community. And yet, when our tween ran downstairs in a panic with her phone shaking in her hands, I had no idea what to do.

Cue live-in therapist.

taught me

I'll give you the bullet point strategy in a second, but here is what I learned that night: what he was essentially teaching our daughter.

1. Responsible To Not Responsible For You are responsible to your friend, but not for her. Friends should respond to pain and be good listeners and problem solvers. You are responsible to get her help, but you are not responsible for her mental health, her choice to follow through with that help, or the overall outcome.

2. Care But Don't Carry You need to care for, but not carry your friend. Teens muddle this. They huddle during recess, go on long walks during class, and spend hours on the phone thinking they are caring for their friend when in reality they are carrying them. Teens love to hear, "You are the only one I can talk to," but that is a sure sign you are carrying a burden that is not yours to bear.

3. Boundaries Don't Mean Banishment Creating good healthy boundaries is something everyone needs to do, but especially teens! Letting the friend know you will be going to bed soon and turning off the phone or will be gone all weekend communicates this boundary and forces the friend to develop other resources. This is not banishing the friend to her crisis, but once you feel she is in an okay place, a healthy boundary would be stepping out of the emotional funnel and getting other people involved.

[bctt tweet="Creating good healthy boundaries is something everyone needs to do, but especially teens!"]

In the midst of these amazing life lessons, my husband coached her through some simple steps to deescalate/ talk the friend off the cliff:

  1. After the initial threat comes in, ask who is there with her. Who does she feel closest to? Would she go wake that person right now please?
  2. Tell her how much you care for her and how sad you would be if you didn't see her at school tomorrow.
  3. Insist that she talk to the safest family member at home at that moment.
  4. Ask for proof that she is with someone. Ask for a selfie of her and that person.
  5. Tell her you can sleep better now and that in the morning you'll see her before class.
  6. Ask if she feels better.

After our daughter went to bed, we decided on a course of action. My point here is that every situation will be different and these thoughts are in NO way meant to be legal or therapeutic advice. I am merely sharing an example of how we engaged our middle schooler when suicide came close. It continues of course. These conversations are daily. But our primary concern is that our daughter doesn't carry a burden and then feel absolutely responsible if anything tragic happens. Our secondary concern is for her friend who is hurting and what we can do to help.

If you are hurting or know someone who is, please seek help. Here is the 24/7 English and Spanish National Suicide Prevention Hotline number: 1 (800) 273-8255. Don't wait.