Content warning: child and teen suicide. While the subject is not discussed in an explicit way, I do talk about how to parent a child/teen who approaches their parent about feelings of suicide. Such content might be disturbing, and I wanted to offer fair warning.
I read an article in the Naples Daily News today (link to PDF, link to JPG). The story about how I got such an article is not relevant. Basically, someone read it, handed it to me, and asked me what I thought.
Actually, it was less an article than it is a Q/A kind of setup, and the title chosen for the question was, “12-year-old son thinking of suicide.” This helps explain why my opinion was sought. I have experience with such things.
Which we are not getting into right now because that’s not my story.
The story I want to write about is what John Rosemond, the author of the “Living with Children” segment in the July 7, 2019, edition of the Naples Daily News (page 8D) wrote as his reply to a parent whose son had expressed several times that things were getting to be too much, that bullies were targeting him, and that suicide had come up. Rosemond’s reply can be summed up in just a few words:
“Buck up, kiddo.”
Actually, the exact words used were, “You can tough this out,” along with, “You’re thinking entirely too much about yourself,” and, “…let’s talk about real solutions rather than dwelling on your feelings.”
And yes, that last excerpt is without the context of the rest of the sentence. The entire sentence is, “To be honest, suicide is an inappropriate response to a problem, no matter how big the problem seems a the moment, so let’s talk about real solutions rather than dwelling on your feelings.”
“Suicide is an inappropriate response” is the only sense Rosemond speaks, and so I’ll give him that.
But only that.
Let me start over.
The parents who have decided that John Rosemond is worthy of asking an opinion of (I disagree, but I digress) are looking for help with their son who is 12. He’s been bullied at school and is overwhelmed by Life. The child has taken several opportunities over the past six months to reach out to his parents with his concerns, his fears, and, apparently, his thoughts of suicide. His parents, in turn, have talked to him, tried to help their son express his feelings, and tried to help him figure out how to solve his issues, but are looking for more advice. After all, they continue, other than those three episodes, everything seems great. Their son has friends, his teachers like him, and he doesn’t act depressed.
Oh, honey. I would bet good money (and I don’t have a lot of it to spread around) that your son has only gotten the nerve up to reach out to you and confess his feelings of suicide three times, but that he’s thought about it a lot more. Please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE don’t stop talking to him, asking him how you can help, giving him attention, asking if he’ll be willing to speak to a professional, asking if there are any other adults you both trust that he would rather talk to, anything to help your son get help.
He’s reached out.
Don’t let him down.
So there’s that. I’ll move on.
So when Rosemond first addresses the inquiry, he offers that he has a suggestion, but also a couple of questions about why child and teen suicide has increased more than ten-fold over an unmentioned period of time. His first question, what’s going on, he answers by explaining that post-1960’s parenting, informed by “psychological parenting propaganda,” is leaving children and young adults unprepared to deal with Life (capitalization mine). He goes on to share that people (psychologists, I assume) in his field encouraged parents to let their children express themselves freely.
And then Rosemond flat out calls that advice “atrocious.” Now, he complains, kids feel like every feeling is valid, worthy of expression, and deserving of attention.
Engage sarcasm filter. Oh, noes! Things that our children say and feel should be important to us, as their parents? I can’t believe my child should be treated as a human being, worthy of respect at any age! And when my child calls me out on bad behavior, I should actually apologize to them? Are you kidding me? Remove sarcasm filter.
If it’s not clear: fuck you, John.
If there’s any problem with post-1960’s parenting, it is that the parents in that era had parents who had pre-1960’s parenting – and that’s not really even a problem, per se, it’s just a thing! A fact. Those post-1960 parents were dealing, as my parents did (I was born in 1978) with parenting education (learned while they were children) that encouraged them to raise quiet, obedient, well-mannered children at any cost. Spanking? No problem. Uncle makes you uncomfortable? It’d be rude to not give him a kiss goodnight, and good girls aren’t rude. You take what you’re given and you don’t complain about it, period. So parents (like mine) were trying to do what professionals recommended even though it went very much against everything that they’d been brought up with. And habits like that?
They are hard to break.
Parents like me, and like the parents writing to Rosemond, are trying to parent (hopefully) with the benefit of the experience of being parented by the very parenting that Rosemond eschews. Because we received parenting like that growing up, listening to our kids feels important, and valid, and we’re able to look at it as a thing maybe we wished our parents had done more of, so we can be (and hopefully are) more available for our children. Asking them how we can help them sounds familiar, and maybe sometimes we’re unprepared or don’t know how to help, but there are lots of professionals who are prepared and who do know, and we have them to turn to. I still see the value of “villages raising children.” If my children would rather talk to a teacher, a psychologist, a minister, or my parents, I encourage them to do so.
And that’s what I quite desperately hope these parents do. You’re on the right track, mystery parents. Don’t slam your child’s feelings and opinions and emotions and their fucking depression into a box and ask him not to look inside. You can only shove so much trash into the bin before it explodes, and bonus points to you if you realize as I do that after ignoring it for so long, it will be rotten. It will be harder to clean up.
Rosemond’s advice is, and I quote:
If and when your child begins talking about suicide, even in a veiled way, make statements as opposed to asking questions.”John Rosemond, Naples Daily News, Sunday, July 7, 2019, page 8D
Okay, sure. How about these, instead of the “buck up” examples Rosemond gave that I listed earlier:
I love you.
Suicide is final, and I don’t want you to die.
I would like you to talk to an adult you trust about this, and if you would rather talk to them privately and talk about me, that’s okay.
Bullying is not okay, and suicide is not the only way to deal with it – I want to help you deal with this.
I love you.
I don’t know how to help you, but I know there are people who can, and we will find them together.
I’m not a professional anything, not even a Professional Parent: I don’t have all the answers, and I know what works for me might not work for someone in what appears to be exactly the same situation.
But it’s common sense. Telling a child they’re being selfish, that they should just “tough it out”, and suggesting that volunteering to serve others will fix their problems sounds an awful lot like:
“I don’t care about what problems you think you have.”
“Why can’t you just be good?”
“Why do you have to cause trouble all the time?”
Some kids are well-behaved and quiet and there’s nothing wrong with that. And other kids can’t manage their emotions and need extra help and there’s nothing fucking wrong with that either, John Rosemond.
It’s become cliché, but it’s truth nonetheless: The most powerful love is tough love.”John Rosemond, Naples Daily News, Sunday, July 7, 2019, page 8D
The most powerful love is love that realizes that you are the parent and your children are undeveloped humans who need your unconditional love, and your attention, and your caring, and your BEST EFFORT even if you don’t have all the answers.
Okay. I think I’m done.
Oh, if you’re a parent and you love your kids? Go give them a hug. Unless they don’t want one. Then respect their boundaries and see if a fist-bump will do.
I don’t have a comment mallet like a particular author I know, but this is my space and I get to decide what kind of comments stay. If I delete yours, feel free to take your opinion to your own platform and link back. Kthx Bai.