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What Parents Can Do to Support Their Children

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

Over the past two weeks, the Washington, DC community has experienced the tragic deaths of four teenagers. Schools and community organizations, including CESJDS, responded quickly to support young people and their families with resources, gatherings and discussion groups.

For anyone who works with teens, is a parent, or has responsibility for the well-being of children, news of the death of an adolescent is devastating. Since I heard the news of these deaths, I have been asking myself what more I could do to respond to the crisis among our teenagers. Research indicates that over the past five years, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless — classic symptoms of depression — surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts have increased 23 percent during this time-period.

CESJDS, like many other schools, runs ongoing wellness and prevention programs for students. We have structures in place for students to report concerns about their peers to adults, and we have developed strong partnership with families in our community.

One action item I gave myself after the recent deaths was to collect a short list of the best wisdom about what parents can do to support their children, and to share that widely both within and beyond our community. Below is a list of advice I have compiled from local schools, principals and organizations.

What can Parents do to Support their Children:

  1. Tell your children that you love them and that you are there to support them.
  2. Make time to speak with your children. Talk to your children about has happened and listen to their responses. Don't allow your child's concerns or fears to snowball.
  3. Normalize your children's feelings – We all feel sadness, anger, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and other feelings. These are normal feelings and teens should know that they are not alone in having these emotions. Normalizing our feelings enables us to better cope with and address these feelings.
  4. Monitor what your children are watching and doing – online, on television and with their friends. Parents need to give their teens appropriate space and independence, but you also need to be aware of what your children are experiencing.
  5. Discuss with your children all of the available supports and adults who are there for them. Teens need to know that there is a network of support at home, in school, and in their lives if they are feeling overly stressed, depressed or anxious.
  6. Don't be afraid to speak with children about suicide. If you as a parent are not speaking with them, someone else is.
  7. Embed yourself in a caring community. Whether that is school, a synagogue, or another community, our communities can provide strength for both teens and their families. When students and parents feel connected to a network, it reduces the isolation that leads to troubling behaviors and it provides the support we all need.
  8. Make sure you and your teens have access to the suicide hotline and text number: 1800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
  9. Reach out to your school's guidance and professional staff if you have questions or are struggling with how to speak with your teen. Schools are partners with families in supporting our young people and they can be a fabulous resource as parents address this serious and difficult issue.

Follow Mitch on Twitter @MitchMalkus.

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