Family Resilience: A Key to Teen Suicide Prevention
Suicide is Preventable
Our personal, family, and work resilience continues to be tested as 2022 marches on, and the staff and peer counselors at Teen Lifeline are urging parents of teenagers to make a special effort to strengthen resilience as a goal for this year.
It might just save a life.
What is resilience?
By definition, resilience is the ability to bounce back after difficulties arise. The past two years have given most of us plenty of opportunities to face challenges and uncertainty.
But resilience is also a set of skills that can be practiced and learned. Throughout the past decade, we’ve seen that resilience is one of the most important protective factors in preventing suicide.
By definition, resilience is the ability to bounce back after difficulties arise… But resilience is also a set of skills that can be practiced and learned.
Resilience is especially important in managing the three most common issues teens call the Teen Lifeline hotline about: thoughts of suicide, conflicts with parents or family members, and relationship trouble with romantic partners or friends.
Some of the most common conflicts teens have with their parents include disagreements about cell phone use, curfews, the amount of time spent with friends or significant others, and fairness between siblings.
Going into conversations ready to listen and understand your teen’s point of view, without needing to be right yourself, will go a long way in finding common ground and resolving conflicts.
For teens, maintaining a resilient attitude can lead to:
• Reduced risk of suicide
• Improved learning and academic performance
• Fewer school absences
• Reductions in risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use
• Increased involvement in community and family activities
• Better overall physical health.
How can I foster resilience in my teen?
At Teen Lifeline, we recommend the following steps to help families with teenagers maintain and enhance resilience.
Help teens discover their purpose.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology shows that a sense of meaning and purpose boosts resilience in teens by supporting their self-esteem, well-being, and mental health. Purpose can come in many forms, including music, art, sports, or activities your teen is passionate about. Religious observance, volunteering, or actively finding a way to help people are also ways to encourage purposeful behavior.
The key is to foster interests your teen is excited about, not simply activities you think they should pursue or that will look good on college applications or in job interviews.
Learn about and practice mindfulness.
Work with your teen to choose and download a mindfulness app. Different apps teach and help teens practice meditation, taking deep breaths, expressing gratitude, identifying emotions, and even practicing calming yoga poses. No interest in an app? Challenge your teen to think of, or write, three things for which they are grateful every day.
A positive outlook can be one of the most important predictors of how quickly someone recovers from adversity. Be an example of positivity for your teen by looking for the good and talking about what gives you hope during difficult circumstances.
Create healthy habits.
Work as a family to start or continue good habits of healthy eating, exercising, and getting enough sleep. When physical needs are met, it is much easier to respond to the adversity that arises in everyday life in a healthy way.
Teaching your teens to ask for help when they need it is another important form of resilience.
The author of this article, Nikki Kontz, LMSW, is the Clinical Director at Teen Lifeline, a Phoenix-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing teen suicide in Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-248-8337.
This article was originally published in the January 2022 print edition of The Arizona Republic as part of a monthly column where Teen Lifeline discusses important youth mental health topics. To read Teen Lifeline’s most recent column pieces, please refer to the print edition of The Arizona Republic.