IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELPWe need to teach our young people coping skills and problem-solving skills. My friends, this is a parenting issue, but I think education needs to change. We need to focus more on social and emotional learning. We need to focus on and really build the self-esteem of our children and prepare them for life’s challenges, obstacles and situations. We need to give them the tools to be successful in life. In the meantime, we need adequate mental health care and counseling. We also need more involved parents. We need to teach our young people that it is OK to ask for help without feeling intimidated or wrong for asking. But here’s what I am seeing all too much: When suicide happens, we’re left reacting. We are emotionally reacting. Parents and community are looking to place blame on the school, the administration, or the teachers. “It’s bullying,” it’s that reason, this happened or that happened. “You’re not doing this…” STOP! Suicide is never the result of one thing. I will say that one thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but suicide is never the result of one thing. Also, no administrator is ever given a certificate on how to handle a suicide – whether that suicide is on campus or off campus – whether it happens in the building, outside the building – whether it is an incoming student that is relatively new to the school community or it’s a popular student athlete, adored by everyone. No student loss or suicide is ever the same. They are all different, and how they are handled isn’t really anyone’s business because the school administrator and his or her team has to think about two things – what is in the best interest of the students, and what is in the best interest of the teachers and staff members. Our job as parents is to support their decisions and accept them – especially now. Our job is to rally together and support the school, the teachers, and the administration – not just when we have loss, but every day. Our kids ask two questions, and whether you are a teacher, a coach, a parent or anyone that works with youth – we need to answer these two questions: 1) Can I trust you? 2) Do you care about me? These two questions are the cornerstone of every trusted relationship. Parents – if your if your child needs a trusted adult immediately because they are distraught and emotionally suffering more so than ever before – are you that trusted adult they would go to first? You are either saying “I don’t know,” or “probably not.”
BE THAT TRUSTED ADULTThis is a problem. Parenting today’s young people is a different game than it ever was before. Today, I would never tell a child that I am disappointed in them. The point I am trying to make here is that kids are a parent’s responsibility. Parents need to support the schools, the teachers and the staff – and our teachers and staff need to support our parents. We all need to do what is best to teach, to educate, to inspire and to encourage our youth. We all need to be trusted adults where our kids feel safe, so that they can open up to us without fear of being lectured, judged or even disappointing us. Let me tell you about teen suicide today. There are three reasons why teens choose to end their lives: 1) They feel alone. 2) They feel that they are a burden. 3) They have the desire to end it all. Let me tell you something else: The students that are on the school’s radar get help and they are taken care of. The students that aren’t asking for help are not on the school’s radar. They are the ones we find out about – and as counselors and teachers, we say, “I didn’t know.” How do we help those that aren’t asking for help? We need to do a better job to teach our kids that speaking up and saying something is the right thing to do, because our kids are on the front lines, and they find out first. Our teens want to talk to someone that understands them – someone that understands what they are going through today. They don’t want to be lectured. They want to be listened to and validated that their feelings and emotions are normal. We all need to do a better job, from our government, to our teachers and coaches, and most importantly, our parents. Our teens need to also do a much better job of asking for help when they need help. I can’t emphasize enough, my friends: It’s OK to ask for help.
SUGGESTIONS FOR MOVING FORWARDYoung people: I’d like to invite you to open your heart that you have trusted adults wanting to be there to help you answer life’s toughest questions. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. You matter. Don’t ever think you’re alone. You matter. Don’t ever feel that you are a burden to your family or society. Parents: I need you to know that our youth today are hurting more than you can imagine – and starting earlier to feel emotions than we ever felt our own emotions when we were growing up. It’s almost like society is taking over. Parenting a child has become more difficult, with less parental influence and control. The speed of pain for a child is instant – almost as fast as turning on a light bulb. Bring the family and community priorities back. Remember things like values and morals, kindness and community pride. Love and support our schools and our youth. I challenge you to volunteer, sponsor, and donate. Give from your heart. And whatever rumors might be going around – let’s not participate. Again – suicide is never the result of one thing. Talk to your children honestly. Be careful about sugar-coating the truth, because they know so much more today than we ever did. For all adults, remember this: It takes a village to raise our children. And remember the two questions our children ask every adult in their lives: Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Be approachable so that our children know that they can safely come and talk to you, and that you are not going to judge them for their questions and thoughts. Also know that all our teachers and our school communities are hurting too. Reach out and show your support. A quick message to our teachers, staff and coaches: Thank you. Remember that you make a difference every single day. So many questions yet in many cases there are so few answers – but we are all responsible, and we need to move forward together for our youth and for each other. Think about what is in the best interest of our community. Let’s come together and respect how the school handles this on their end; the decisions need to be made, based on a comfortable balance – a comfortable balance compassionately meeting the needs of our students, their staff, their teachers and the community as a whole – while preserving the ability of the school to fulfill its primary purpose of education. This is a very sad time – a time that affects all of us. It doesn’t have to define our year, though. I’m so, so sorry and I wish I can say more. My friends, suicide and mental health are becoming an economic issue, and we need all of you to speak up. This is the greatest crisis of our time. In the words of a friend of mine: “Choose life. Choose love. Choose you.” I love you, my friends – and I am sorry for your losses. Stay beautiful, Perry Township – and I know you quite well, too. I’m sending prayers and thoughts to all of you. If you are interested in me visiting your school community, please go to www.jeffyalden.com or my nonprofit, www.jeffyaldenfoundation.com
[Tioga, N.D. is a rural community struggling with the recent losses of two young people.]
Let’s be honest. We are all a mess – and that is the common ground where we must come together and pick each other up.