This week I am setting aside the usual politically inspired thoughts. Frankly my heart just isn’t in it. My wife and I (along with thousands of others) have been vicarious witnesses to every parent’s worst nightmare: the death of a child. A close friend, teammate and classmate of our son’s took his own life last week. There were no warning signs. To say we are all shocked would be a gross understatement. This tragedy has reminded us all how quickly that which we take for granted can vanish in an instant. The pain and anguish we have experienced have been but mere shadows of what his family has endured. I am humbled by their strength of character for I doubt I could muster the strength to get out of bed. Many ask “why” in these situations but it may be the most pointless question of all. There is no answer that could ever be given that would make any sense or console anyone. We hope an answer might help us prevent others from doing the same. But every situation is unique. Following our hindsight leaves us blind to what is before us. The challenge is not in addressing every potential scenario that might lead a teen down this path but rather in making sure they understand there does not exist even the possibility that any event or situation in their life could ever justify such a course of action.
As parents we face a real challenge. We wish to set standards while simultaneously not undermining those standards through the moral hazard of our love. I think we are all often guilty (myself included) of saying “Do this, don’t do that” and leaving the “but if you fail it’s ok, we’ll still love you” as an unspoken sentiment. We know we’ll love them no matter what but we have to be mindful of how when we were teens we felt like our parent’s love (respect, approval, etc.) for us was conditional upon our meeting their standards. As a parent don’t assume anything – tell your kids you set standards because you love them but if they fail it will not affect your feelings in any way. Tell them that you don’t expect perfection, that none of us are perfect least of all ourselves. Children instinctively place their parents on a pedestal as paragons of perfection. It’s ok to let them know that is not the case, that we are human and make mistakes just like they do. I think taking ourselves down a notch in their eyes may often help to lift them up a notch so that in their eyes the gap between us is much smaller – perhaps small enough to maintain communication (a real challenge in the teen years).
And to any teen or young person reading this, please understand there is NOTHING that you could do or experience that would warrant taking your own life. Grades, relationships, drugs, life goals – problems in these areas are nothing more than pebbles underfoot on the journey of a thousand miles that will be your life experience. Don’t let a few pebbles stop you now. If you feel you can’t talk to your parents then talk to anybody, a friend, a teacher, a stranger, anybody. And if that doesn’t help, just wait 24 hours before doing anything you can’t undo. Emotions are fleeting and mercurial; it is unwise to act based on your emotional weather vane. Whatever pain or fear you are experiencing will be magnified a billion fold in the family and friends you leave behind.