Your teens must know that they can tell you anything - ANYTHING - and you will respond with love and compassion. If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through punishment, they will fear telling you the truth because they know the consequences. If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through shaming, they will not tell you the truth because they risk humiliation. If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through criticism, they will not tell you the truth because they risk judgment. If you parent in any way that fails to create a climate of trust, unconditional love and connection in your family then you are literally putting your teen's lives at risk.
If your teen is being bullied at school they need to feel safe telling you about their suffering. Would your daughter feel comfortable telling you that other girls are calling her a slut and spreading nasty rumors? Would your son be able to tell you that a couple boys ganged up on him in the locker room and gave him a wedgie? If your teen broached the subject and said she was being bullied would you discount or disregard what she said, or would you listen in a way that would support her in telling you more of the details?
If your teen goes to a friends house, the parents aren't home and the party gets uncomfortably rowdy, will your teen feel that she can call you to get a ride home? Does she know that you will not lecture her about her choices, ground her or yell at her all the way home?
If your teen is depressed can he tell you? Will you pass it off as typical teenage angst or will you take the time to get him the help he needs?
If your teen has questions about her sexuality, if your teen thinks he might be gay, if your teen feels different in some unexplainable way, can your teen come to you and talk it through without risking rejection, derision, harassment, or being made to feel unworthy of your love?
Can your teen tell you who he is, what her passions are, what he believes, what she wants to do with her life?
Or, do you constantly hold up your expectations of who your teen should be, reminding your teen that if she does not live up to your expectations she will be a disappointment and you will withdraw your approval and support?
Are you putting your teen's life at risk?
Teens are dying. They are dying because they feel isolated, bullied, depressed, hated, and unloved. They are dying because they do not feel safe in their communities, their schools and their homes. They are dying because they did not have the support and acceptance that they desperately needed. They are dying because the adults in their lives failed. Teachers, parents, spiritual leaders, politicians, grandparents, bus drivers, friends' parents, every adult in their life had an opportunity to be the person in their life who made a difference. Perhaps their parents were unwavering in their love and support but that was not enough because the other adults looked the other way. We must all take responsibility for supporting the teens in our community.
I cannot promise you that if you parent unconditionally, with respect and love, by putting your relationship first, that your teen will be just fine, that you can sit back and relax knowing that your teen will never commit suicide. However, I can tell you that nothing is more important than your relationship with your teen. I can tell you that if you make that relationship a priority in your life there is a much greater chance that you and your teen will come through these years alive.
Wrap your teens in unconditional love, and create a climate of respect and trust in your house so that they know you will be there for them no matter what. (If you are not sure what that means read "How we live at our house.") If something is causing conflict in your relationship ask yourself if it is more important than your teen's life. The answer to that should be easy: Nothing is more important than your teen's life.
For more on Trust and Teens read Here.
"Hopefully some day you will have a teenager"
For more on my relationships with teens read "I don't tattle."
For more on being trust worthy in our relationships read Here.
And my previous post on this subject "Tolerance vs Acceptance."
To Write Love on Her Arms
The Trevor Project