Do you know what’s going on with your teens?

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Sabrina Almeida

Three months ago, I wrote about the rising number of teen suicides. My column at that time was prompted both by new data (from the US National Center for Health Statistics) pointing to a substantial increase in suicide rates from 2007 to 2015, and word that an aspiring doctor from our South Asian community had just ended his life. More bad news this week of two young victims (one of whom died) prompted me to raise the issue again.

My thoughts immediately turned to the parents who were completely unaware of the mental anguish their kids were going through. A situation that most mums and dads, including me, can identify with these days.

How do you recognize the telltale signs when your offspring spend most of their time at home barricaded in their rooms? What can you can glean from occasional grunts designed to give you responses you want to hear so that you will go away?

The fact that we don’t always know what’s going with our kids, despite all our attempts, is troubling to say the least.

A friend who knew the deceased youth and has a child the same age was shaken to the core. We talked about our experiences growing up in Mumbai—the parental, peer and academic pressures we faced—and concluded that close-knit families and communities made all the difference.

Smaller homes encouraged greater interaction between parents and children. This made it easier for them to tell when something was not right. We talked to our siblings and friends about our troubles. We were not afraid of being judged for our failures and mistakes.

Society is quick to cast aspersions on parenting in such situations. It’s unfair. As my friend pointed out, we walk the fine line between enforcing rules and cutting our kids some slack. It can be hard to distinguish between when your teen is genuinely having a hard time socially or academically and when they are simply working the situation to their advantage. It’s your job to read them the riot act, at least initially, not readily cave in. Unfortunately, these decisions that we make with their best interests in mind, have a negative effect. As it did in the case of the deceased teen.

We might think our parents had it easier because we all toed the line or that we were mentally stronger but that is of little consequence. More importantly being involved does not mean exerting greater control over our children’s lives. We must listen more closely to be able to read between the lines. A no-nonsense approach sometimes blinds us to reality. That and the roadmap that we have laid out for them. Not forgetting the biggest one… social approval.

It’s important to maintain perspective. Our kids seek our approval and the fear of displeasing or disappointing us may prevent them from sharing their struggles.

I admit that I would not calmly accept my child’s decision to drop courses or change his field of study. My first instinct would be to change his mind rather than mine. Knowing this would certainly add to their discomfort with bringing the problem to me as well as create unnecessary stress. Not everyone is strong enough to go head-to-head with their parents.

But with all that has been happening, I am probably more afraid than they are. I now make it a point to talk about self harm and suicide. I remind them that every problem, no matter how serious, has a solution. That the reason I want to know is so that I can help.

We all know how important it is to communicate. Sharing a meal and spending time together are the best ways to do that. To make this happen will take some effort from us parents. We must resist the urge to constantly question, admonish or advise.

Parents of boys must also allow them to have emotions instead of insisting they man up! We must acknowledge that boys are as fragile as girls. Suffering in silence can have disastrous consequences.

To prevent a tragedy and to offer our kids the help and support they might need, we must also accept that we are not insulated from this problem. – CINEWS

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