Listen to your children for their sake

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, September 11, 2008

Living through those teenage years bring with it extremes.

There’s the giddiness of all the rites of passage: first date, first kiss, proms, graduation, first job, first car. And there’s the angst that go along with those rites of passage that bring so much happiness: the right clothes, the right friends, the right social group, good grades, the right school.

It’s no wonder that our children reach out in a variety of ways to adults and one another. The problem is sometimes we don’t hear them.

Email newsletter signup

And, in some cases, like that of Madison Dunlap, a 15-year-old Decatur High School sophomore, we lose them. Dunlap died last month of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, surpassed only by accidents and homicide.

So what are adults supposed to do?

Madison’s dad, Mike, started a group with his pastor to help children and their parents communicate. Mental health experts tell us to keep a close eye on a teen who seems depressed and withdrawn. Poor grades, for example, may signal that a teen is withdrawing at school. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open and express concern, support, and love. If a teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. It’s important not to minimize or discount what a teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.

If a teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor.

The key is to open the channels of communication with someone. Then, perhaps, we’ll read fewer stories about the Madison Dunlaps of our communities