I get the chance to travel across the country working with communities, schools and young people. Unfortunately, many times I get the call after there has been a suicide and the school are in a crisis. I usually spend a few days working with the adults and the students. While it can be heartbreaking at times, I am grateful for these amazing young people.
I always ask for time to meet with the students in the school to see how they are doing and to gauge what help or assistance is needed. In a crisis, young people feed off each other and sometimes it can be difficult to break the barriers of trust to be able to help. However, one on one these young people open up about their fears, their challenges and their hopes.
The one fear that continues to rise up everywhere I go, is the comment that they “Feel all alone and that no one understands what they are going through.” While I heard it ten years ago, I am hearing it more and more now than ever before. These young people feel like they have no one to turn too.
If you are worried about your child or a young person you interact with, may I make a few suggestions to help. Please remember that feeling all alone can be very painful and difficult for young people and many will do anything to try to just fit in or be accepted. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
Every young person needs a significant other adult in their life. It may be a parent, a sibling or aunt or uncle. It doesn’t matter who, but help your child find that person. Create opportunities for them to spend quality time with them. As a parent spend one on one time listening and encouraging. Find out what interests them and build on those suggestions.
It’s important for young people to “Connect” with others their age. My wife did a “Thursday night friends” at our house. We ordered pizza and encouraged our children to invite friends over for a movie or to play. Over time our kids and their friends felt safe in our home. We stayed home to supervise, but stayed out of their way.
Take time to help your child “Find something to belong too.” It may be music, sports or performing arts. It might be chess or swimming. They need to be “Needed” by someone else and in turn they need to need others. Don’t force them into it, but allow them to choose something that would be fun and even challenging. If something doesn’t work, try something else.
Having expectations is healthy and challenging your child is expected as a parent, however be cautious of forcing your child because you did it as a child or because you think it will be good for them. If you do require something, set a time limit so they can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
We required our children to play the piano till sixth grade. After that they could choose to do something else. Be sure to not overload them with too many expectations or experiences as it can cause burnout at a young age. Allow time off during summer or weekends so kids can have time to relax and explore.
The feeling “I feel all alone “can be painful for a child. However, as an adult we can help them find success.
By Gregory A. Hudnall
Gregory A. Hudnall is a former high school principal and associate superintendent with the Provo City School District. He is the founder of Hope4Utah a nonprofit organization that specializes in school-based suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.