In the past month I have come across two close friends who were coping with the suicide of a loved one. In each case it came as a shock. In each case there were no clear warning signs. Both were teenagers in good families. With these tragedies come so many questions, the most prominent being: What could I have done? Blame cannot be passed out and unfortunately there is never one “cure all” answer, but I do believe there are things we can do as parents to prepare and maybe even conquer similar challenges that our families may face in the future. While this topic scares everyone to death and no one wants to talk about it, I think that is actually one of the greatest roots of this problem.
The Book of Mormon documents societies who rose and fell based upon their valiancy to obey the laws of God. One of the greatest reasons for their downfalls was something called “secret combinations.” Secret combinations were covert ways for those who were devising plans to do evil to communicate, set rules, make plans, and not be discovered. This always led to the downfall of a society or the spark of a war. The Book of Mormon warns that secret combinations lead to the destruction of nations. I believe that this has just as much meaning now then it did thousands of years ago.
A friend gave what I feel is an appropriate title to many problems that we see in the world, “The Secret Combinations of Our Day.” If you think about the trials that our children and families face, so many of them are done in secret and sometimes with out anyone knowing at all. Suicide, pornography, depression, infidelity…. Sadly this list could go on, but in it I see a common denominator: secret. No one wants others to know of their problems or temptations that they face. Many people try to hide the way they feel or what they are doing and are too ashamed to seek out help, but this only drags them further into their self spun web. I believe that one of the major components in fixing these problems, especially with our children, is to open up clearer lines of communication.
A close friend of mine struggling with a pornography addiction said, “I had never heard of pornography or knew what it was. When I was twelve years old, a friend showed it to me and told me it was ok. Years later I am now fighting an addiction. I wish that I could have learned what it was and that it would ruin my life before I ever saw that first picture.”
We warn our children, “Just say no to drugs,” so that if one day faced with the opportunity, they will have already made up their minds that “No” would be their answer. We live in a day and age where we need to arm our children with the knowledge to say “No” to much more than that.
We need to be courageous in talking to our children.
As a Recreational Therapist, I would assess each girl that came into our residential treatment facility with straight forward questions. Many of them were about their leisure activities like: What do you do in your free time? What things do you do with your family?, but also on the list was: Have you ever done drugs? Have you broken the law? Have you ever thought of killing yourself? At first some of the questions, especially the last, were extremely hard to ask and heart wrenching to find out. As I gained more experience I realized that beginning with the requirement of openness and honesty led to greater opportunity for growth and change.
I am not suggesting you need to ask these questions to your five year old or even your fifteen year old. Hopefully these more serious conversations don’t need to come up, but as a parent, listen to your instincts. If you feel these questions might be an issue, don’t skirt away because you are too afraid. We need to open up the lines of communication with our children and wherever you are, NOW is the time to start. If you have never talked to your kids, start slow. Take one of them out for ice cream, just you and them, and just. Start a conversation at the dinner table. Ask them about their day over a game of basketball. Ask them about their dreams and what they want to become. Go on a hike together. Recreation is a perfect way to put yourself in an easier place to talk about serious things. Be open to listening to your child’s thoughts and feelings without being angry or telling them right away what they need to do to fix it. The more you talk and listen to them, even about seemingly meaningless things, the more they will feel like they can come to you with much bigger problems.
My challenge today is BE COURAGEOUS! Make a plan and find time this week to start talking to your kids.
For more on this topic, read this great article on Courageous Parenting.