Suicide and drug use/overdose have become an all-too-common occurrence with our youth. While inundated with screens and social media outlets, what most kids today are missing most is the face-to-face human connection that results from talking to someone who loves and cares about them. In fact, the most significant connection young people have is a parent.
We know that kids gain more when they build on their strengths and talents rather than focusing on their weaknesses. This focus gives them the resilience they need when tough times happen. For this reason, it is important for parents to establish positive, open lines of communication with their children to build up strengths and assets, and talk to them about drugs and suicide.
“Let’s Talk” is a program that gives parents, grandparents, coaches and any adult who interacts with youth the tools they need to start these discussions. The theme of “Let’s Talk” is: Listen like a friend, Respond like a parent. The purpose of Let’s Talk is simply to restore the confidence of parents and care givers that they are an important influence and need to make talking to their children a priority — not talking at them — not yelling, or just correcting, directing, instructing — but really taking the time to talk with them, tell stories, share values, recognize strengths.
There are three key areas that every parent and caregiver must take the time to talk to their children regularly about:
1. Drugs. You can start talking early and often about the dangers of drugs. Children whose parents talk to them about drugs are far less likely to ever use drugs. When a caregiver talks about drugs they are not putting an idea into a young person’s head, rather, they are giving them tools to help them recognize a drug when they are offered it. You think they are not listening — but their hearts are listening. In a recent study of 450 Allen County youth, the No. 1 reason these youth gave for not using drugs was: “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.”
2. Suicide. Every parent and caregiver need to know and recognize the signs and symptoms when a young person, loved one, family member, or friend is considering suicide and to reach out. When you talk to someone and ask them: “Are you thinking about suicide?” You are not planting an idea of suicide into their head, rather, you are helping them find relief and an opportunity to open up.
3. Strengths and Assets. Every parent and caregiver need to spend more time talking to children about their strengths and assets than about their weaknesses and failings. We make far more gains when we focus on our strengths then when we try to correct our weaknesses. Our most primitive survival instincts — fight, flight, freeze — are built upon recognizing danger; i.e., the negative. However, our growth and ability to achieve a meaningful life depend on a new response, to tend and befriend; i.e., to look for the positive.
If we are going to change the trajectory of drug use and overdose deaths and deaths by suicide for our youth, then we as a community must embrace the truth that unless we reconnect with our youth we will lose them to drugs and suicide. Put down the phone and take time every day to connect with your young person whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a coach, a teacher, or anyone who interacts with youth. There are videos and informative materials to help you get the conversation started at www.letstalk.care.
Written for Activate Allen County by Michael Schoenhofer, executive director, Mental Health & Recovery Services Board