With the constant stream of news stories lately in the wake of two very high profile suicides, I have been wracking my brain for the most age-appropriate way to answer my six-year-old questions. As much as I try to shelter them from these tragedies, they still hear about them at school, or from the news. They have experienced death in the context of a pet, a great-grandparent, but the permanence of it has not yet had a significant impact. A natural death is distinctly different than someone willing taking their own life. If I, as a fully grown adult cannot wrap their mind around why someone would want to take their own life, then how can I explain it to a child?
Full disclosure, I am someone who has never suffered from depression. I do not know the dark and tormented depths in which a person can be in to take ones life. My natural reaction is one of anger towards the individual over making a selfish choice, causing so much suffering for those involved. It is why it is so difficult to find the right words to explain to my child how someone could choose to leave this world, and those they love behind. In my hardest days, I try to feel grateful. I am thankful for every breath, every pain, every person, and every experience, but I am also aware that many others do not, and have a harder time feeling this way.
A year or so ago I watched 13 Reason’s Why. I know many parents were watching it with their pre-teens/teens as a way to help broach this sensitive subject. My child was far too young at the time to have any meaningful discussion about it, but my reason for viewing it was to gain some insight into what could cause a teenager with a wonderful and promising life ahead of them to choose to end it all. Unfortunately, it provided no more clarity in my 30 + years of life on the subject. Not all children are equally equipped to handle certain kinds of stressors.
Being a kid is tough today. There are always going to be those who are more psychologically fragile. The things that may roll right off of one kid’s back, will be more damaging to another. Advancements in technology, growing social media accounts has left our children in a feeling of constant comparisons. The ability to spread rumors, bully, and insult one another is done at lightning speed. It’s no wonder that suicide rates among children and young adults are on the rise. Additionally, the rate at which males take their own lives as compared to females is significantly higher. As parents, we NEED to have these conversations.
I can’t say that I am fully prepared to discuss suicide with my child. I do know that I will be as honest with them as possible. Explaining it may be hard to understand the kind of sadness a person feels when they want to take their own life. It is the kind of pain that is unbearable to them. I will tell them that life is worth fighting for no matter what. To let them know that there is absolutely no problem too big that we can’t solve together, and no struggle too tough that we can’t work through. Most importantly, I will tell them that my love for them is so deep. My forgiveness is unlimited and that no matter what they can ALWAYS come to me.
Parenting is hard! Talking to your kids about these difficult topics is an unpleasant reality. Avoiding them could be worse. When my child is ready and has questions I won’t shy away from the topic of suicide. I hope and pray every day that by talking about it, my sons won’t become part of this frightening statistic.