Who keeps kids safe? Growing up is hard to do, maybe more now than ever before. Teens face incredible challenges you could never have imagined when they were cute little infants and toddlers. How can you possibly keep them safe at home and at school?
Helicopter parents, while well-meaning, do not do their children any favors by constantly hovering and trying to protect them from every painful and uncomfortable experience. Stepping back and allowing young people to learn from their own mistakes is essential. But when you think about the darker side of life in today’s world, that can be terrifying for parents and teachers.
Educating children about how to avoid trouble is critical. But it’s not easy. Having open conversations with teens can be as tough as pulling teeth. Some parents agree it’s worth taking advantage of having their kid in a car on the way to a scheduled destination or going out for a fast food treat. It allows for safe one-on-one time to have meaningful conversations. Asking questions without judgment and sharing their thoughts on a given topic can give parents a chance to discuss difficult subjects.
Here are four topics you might want to touch on during those conversations:
The problems with social media and teens are infinite and can’t be resolved easily. Teens seem to communicate primarily through social media, making it critical for parents to educate themselves and teach their children about safety. Targeting one issue at a time is more manageable.
Teenagers think about sex a lot. Picture this scenario. A text message from a girl or boy turns into a stimulating conversation. What if they ask for explicit selfies? We know those images can exist in cyberspace forever, but that is not the worst consequence. The person sending texts might be a hacker with very bad intentions. Have you heard of “sextortion”? It can be fatal.
Kids will experiment, especially with drugs. Sometimes it’s with cannabis, but often they will sample different pills to relax, dull pain, or get high. They buy pills from friends or through social media connections. Today’s most dangerous drug is fentanyl, often found in counterfeit pills.
Two milligrams, about as much as 10-15 grains of salt, will kill a person. It’s that scary.
This topic might seem like it doesn’t fit in this discussion. However, children who are different from their peers face challenges that most never realize. Besides skin color and ethnicity, youth who identify as LGBTQ are often ostracized and become targets for bullying and discrimination. They are at high risk for mental health disorders and suicide.
The number of suicide attempts has increased significantly, and suicide continues to be one of the leading causes of death for youth ages 10-25. Schools are responsible for keeping their students safe, and many states are trying to increase support for students’ mental health. Suicide is a scary topic, but talking about it is an important prevention strategy.
Since teens spend so much time at school, teachers and administrators must do their parts. If your child’s school does not offer presentations on these topics, ask them to schedule parent meetings to discuss them and provide training to students. Staff training is critical as well. Peer-to-peer programs might be one of the most effective ways to get kids to pay attention.
“It takes a village” is so true. Involve the whole community. Anyone who interacts with youth, from mental health providers to business owners to public service workers, should participate in learning the facts and taking action to educate children about dangerous choices.
Just a Few Resources
- What do teens need to know about “sextortion” & online predators?
- Fentanyl: The New Talk Between Parents and Teens
- The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) believes every student has the right to a safe, supportive, and LGBTQ-inclusive K-12 education. “We are a national network of educators, students, and local GLSEN Chapters working to make this right a reality.”
- (SPRC) Suicide Prevention Resources for Schools
As students and teachers head back to school, help put suicide prevention on the agenda for the new academic year by spreading the word about these resources:
- Suicide prevention resources for middle school and high school settings
- Information sheets to help high school teachers and mental health providers prevent suicide
- Resources for teens who may be at risk
- A toolkit to help middle and high schools respond to a student suicide death
- Guidance on implementing trauma-informed practices in schools
Talking with young people about topics they really don’t want to discuss with their parents is never easy. But consider the alternatives if you don’t. Prevention is worth the effort.
A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.