Family

5 Ways To Protect Your Daughter In An Era Of Record-High Teen Suicide Rates

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Young child in sadness bubble, mother comforting daughter

When you hear a parent wondering how they can protect their daughter, a lot of people's minds automatically go to thinking about the way that boys may prey upon the girl or young woman. These concerns can range from natural heartbreaks that they will go through to differing emotional engagements between boys and girls who are at different emotional developmental stages, even though they are of the same chronological age, to acts of sexual violence, assault, and rape.

These are aspects that parents are naturally concerned about for their daughters.

However, there is another area that is not talked about as much. There is another way parents need to think about how they protect their daughters. As it is not talked about as much and as it is often clouded in deeper senses of shame, parents may not even think about what they can or need to do to protect their daughter. The area of protection needed is against the prevalence of suicide attempts. Here are some statistics that are shocking in this regard:

These numbers continued to climb into 2021 and beyond, leading to a report of record-high metrics in some of these areas. The CDC reports that "Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago."

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mother and daughter face the camera cheek to cheek

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I am sorry if these facts are sobering. This is important to care for to protect our daughters and avoid these tragedies. Now that you understand that this is something to be concerned about, there is good news amidst the pain this represents. The Jason Foundation states that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

This means that if you are aware of what to look for and are paying attention to your daughter, then in the vast majority of cases, you can do something to help your daughter while she is still contemplating suicide. It is important not to dismiss some of these warning signs as simply what is "typical" for a teenager, especially if the behavior or statement is out of character for the particular teenager. Seldom will a teenager exhibit all of these behaviors or even most of these behaviors.

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Here are 5 ways to protect your teenage daughter.

1. Watch for suicide threats or similar veiled statements.

These may be made verbally, written, or even in texts or social media comments—here are some examples:

  • "I'm going to kill myself."
  • "You'll be glad when I am not around."
  • "I won't be bothering you anymore."
  • "I wonder whether I would wake up if I took all those pills."
  • "My life is horrible, and you can't understand."

   

   

2. Look for signs of depression.

  • Hopelessness and despair, either in the way they carry themselves or in what they describe
  • Declining performance at school
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Isolation, especially from peers but also from family
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Abrupt personality changes, especially if it involves her becoming more irritable or aggressive
  • Expressions of sadness, especially if out of proportion to what is going on

3. Notice an obsession or preoccupation with death, dying, or suicide.

  • Often shows up in the creative work she may do, whether it is writing art or some other format
  • Reading writings about death or suicide
  • Dwelling on the suicide or suicide attempt of a peer or a popular idol

4. Be aware if she is making final arrangements.

  • Like adults, she might try to put her affairs in order before attempting suicide, even potentially making some of her funeral arrangements
  • She may say goodbye to friends and family, letting them know they were important to her or that they had hurt her
  • There may be particular things that she tries to give away to people that she wants to have them after she is dead

5. Know the miscellaneous signs.

  • Recent losses in her life from the death of people she cared about or a peer to the loss of an after-school job to a recent breakup
  • Recent instability within the family, especially a divorce
  • Loneliness, shame, humiliation, rejection, and similar difficult-to-accept emotions
  • In serious trouble that has not been her norm
  • Impulsiveness and inattention
  • Physical complaints that seem to be more emotionally based than physically based
  • Increased involvement in drugs or alcohol
  • Previous suicide attempts greatly increase her risk
  • In the year after a suicide attempt, the risk of being successful in another attempt is greatly enhanced
  • Pay attention not only to outright suicide attempts but also to other ways that she is engaging in self-harm

   

   

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This list provides a good overview of some things to be aware of. When you start seeing several things on the list applying to her, try and have a talk with her or get someone to talk with her. Some people have said if a person is explicitly talking about suicide, they will not attempt suicide, but this is not true.

However, it is also not true that talking about suicide with someone will make them more likely to commit suicide. The opposite is true — talking about it has the possibility of acknowledging where they are at and may allow them to start addressing how they are feeling. As you talk with her, it is vital to remain nonjudgmental and to continue to have an attitude of caring towards her.

You have the possibility of being the agent to help her discover a sense of hope she can experience peace and wholeness in her life. This is a wonderful way to protect your daughter.

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Rev. Christopher L. Smith, LCAC, LMHC, LMFT is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, as well as a licensed counselor with extensive experience as both a counselor and as a supervisor of counselors. He is President and Clinical Director of Seeking Shalom, a counseling service.