The kids in our school district have experienced multiple deaths this year. Sadly, some of them have come by the very hand of a friend they sat with at lunch or in class or that was a teammate who decided they couldn’t hold onto the hope that the next second, minute, hour or day would get better.
Parents are obviously concerned with for their kids; how do we talk about grieving and how do we talk about recognizing when they need help and their friends need help, and how does a parent/guardian know when their kiddo struggling? There are also many parents that want to look at our schools as a solution rather than what role we play, along with our churches, community, government, healthcare and social media.
A Facebook group was recently started by a mom who lost her son 10 years ago to suicide. He was a graduate of one of our high schools and so clearly she is passionate about the subject. I don’t know her but I believe her intent was to start conversations about how we can all be a part of the solution and exchange ideas to support each other and our kids. Sadly, as some Facebook groups do, it seemed to become a place for some to complain about what everybody else isn’t doing and not being open to people saying “Hey, why don’t we look at ourselves to personally work on this?” As someone who has made three suicide attempts and works every single day to manage the demons that try to kill her, it became a place that wasn’t good for me and I made the decision to leave the group.
Below is what I would have liked to express but was too afraid to in that forum. I can’t be the wife, Mama, volunteer, community member, and advocate that I want to be and that I hope can positively influence change (that starts with me) if I’m not keeping my own mental “ick” in check. There is zero judgement in any of the following; we are all a work in progress and I know I’m not always good at these things but if we are at least sharing ideas that don’t throw the responsibility on the backs of the people who only have our kiddos for about 6 or so hours a day for 180 days in the year we might make some headway. I’ll appreciate in advance for giving me grace due to its length.
- Limit screen times and know what our kids are doing on their phones?
- Make dinner as a family a priority and encourage conversation? There are so many “conversation starters” out there – keep them on the table and be surprised at what happens.
- Turn “How was your day?” into “Tell me about your day.” “Fine” as an answer isn’t too enlightening but “This and this and this happened” might give us some insight to how their world is going.
- Dial back their packed schedules in and out of school? Academically and socially.
- Dial back our schedules and teach them how to respectfully say “No” to stuff that doesn’t speak to what they love to do because they see us doing that.
- Limit our own talking in “not the best ways” on social media and in person?
- Refuse to allow coaches to berate our kids on the sidelines to “make them better”?
- Coaching and berating aren’t the same; gets short term results to avoid being screamed at but not sure it gives kids the impression that a coach wants the best for them. NKU Women’s Basketball is experiencing firsthand what this allowed behavior can do to kids.
- Refuse to allow ourselves and other parents to berate our kids, their kids, refs and coaches? Kids imitate what they see. If want them to be respectful and kind we have to give them a lot of opportunities to see adults doing that; if they see adults treating people like garbage, they are going to treat people like garbage.
- Make school events a priority for us to support – PTO/A meetings, volunteering in whatever ways we can, supporting he efforts of our buildings, reading newsletters weekly so we know what is happening in our buildings? No parent can or should be at everything but there are a lot of us doing it all and it turns people off because they think parent involvement looks like being at school 24/7 and when you aren’t at school, you must everything school related that happens outside of school hours.
- Teach our kids empathy for themselves and others?
- Not give trophies for effort but applaud the effort, not the result? 1st prize at the science fair or scoring the winning goal get a reaction of, “So proud of how hard you worked. You set a goal, worked hard and made it happen.” rather than “I’m so proud you won.” or “I know you came in last; here’s a trophy.”
- Teach our kids how to fail and learn from it? Edison tried 1,000 times to create the light bulb and says that he learned that with every mistake he got a step closer to his goal. What would have happened if he quit the first time he wasn’t successful.
- Reach out to the parents of our kid’s friends and agree on some expectations?
- Teach our kids resilience? We throw the word “bullying” around to the point that it has lost its true meaning and we ask our schools to spend a lot of time addressing a one time “kids just being kids” incident that might result in hurt feeling, which isn’t okay, but isn’t relentless harassment or threats or physical/emotional targeting. (And again, we forget that they model what they see at home).
- Teach our kids how to resolve conflict among themselves in productive ways?
- Encourage our kids to have 3 adults that they can go to outside of school that they trust and would hear them if they needed help of some sort?
- Teach our kids how to age-appropriately advocate for themselves?
- Teach our kids how to deal with people they don’t like or have other viewpoints or walk/talk/speak/believe/vote differently than they do? There is always going to be a boss/co-worker/teammate/coach they don’t like or agree with – how do they handle that?
- Model what “you never know what someone is privately battling”? so that maybe we all pause before reacting.
- Encourage our kids to know their strengths and build healthy views of them self and their self-worth from knowing what they are?
- Teach our kids that life isn’t fair/equal but justice is a reasonable expectation and what the difference is between the two? We have kiddos (and adults) that believe they are entitled to stuff and when it doesn’t happen, they can’t deal.
- Ask our kids what success looks like to them and not live what we wished we had done in life through them or push our idea of success on them? If executive chef is a kiddo’s goal in life is a full load of AP classes really best for them or is the ability to explore their passion in many ways what’s best for them? My kids have said more times than I can count that they don’t want to let my husband and I down; that seems okay to an extent but not when they sacrifice their happiness and own self-worth to make us happy.
- Look around in our community for ways our kids can “fill their buckets” through clubs, activities, volunteering, etc. (but again, not in a way that gives them no down time).
I am not saying that our schools can’t help nor am I placing blame on any parent who has lost a child or has one currently struggling but as someone who has survived 3 attempts at “quitting life” and has spent a lot of time with kiddos in a variety of ways, I can only speak from my viewpoints and what kids have shared with me. I felt a ton of pressure as a kid and “teen angst” was the “diagnosis” given for my challenges. It wasn’t until I was 28 that bipolar was diagnosed. Very little from school factored one way or another but coaches, friends, push from lots of people to succeed, not feeling heard by anyone, hearing how adults spoke about other people and judged them, an inability to handle everything from teasing to losing, not wanting to let people down and more, in looking back, didn’t help when I was already struggling. I think we have over-corrected in some ways and, in other ways, are repeating the same stuff that maybe wasn’t the best for us growing up.
If we want different results, we have to be willing to do things in different ways otherwise we are living the definition of insanity and it’s doing none of us any good. Agenda, egos and reputation have to be put aside for our kiddos and each other. We might have to look in the mirror and admit we might be part of the problem. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we always have gotten; our kids have promising futures and nothing can be off the table in making sure they are here to be all they weren’t meant to be. ♥