Teens who commit suicide aren’t thinking about tomorrow or the next day or next year. They’re simply thinking about the situation they’re facing now and how they feel at the moment. Adults can help by reminding them not to make permanent decisions based on temporary circumstances, but we also need to guide them in planning for the future. This doesn’t stop with encouraging potential further education and career interests, although those are important. Sometimes the stress of having to make such major life decisions and the related fear of failure or displeasing parents can add to the weight that teenagers carry.
Instilling Delayed Gratification
Teens’ natural tendencies toward impulsive behavior are compounded by emotional immaturity and a societal emphasis on instant gratification. Technology may be partly to blame; we rarely have to wait ten seconds for a response to a text or information that we Google.
Call it patience, delayed gratification, or playing the waiting game—it’s a necessary life skill. Teaching your teen to save up for a longed-for “toy” or experience, to celebrate even small achievements and milestones, and to count down days to big events can help keep a future focus while developing a key character trait.
Creating a “Bucket List”
From the days when “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was answered with far-fetched ideas like “astronaut” or “trapeze artist,” your teen has had some dreams in view. What about now? What would he or she like to accomplish, try, or explore someday? Just like in the movie “The Bucket List,” this lifetime to-do list is flexible but can give meaning to life and even give people a reason to keep living. Maybe you could watch the movie together and actually write out your own list, checking off experiences that you’ve had, while encouraging your teen to do the same. You could frame the lists and post them someplace handy in your home or go high-tech and keep track with an app.
Do you remember when your teen was a toddler and no longer needed you to do simple tasks like getting dressed or going to the bathroom? You might have felt relived, in a sense, while at the same time feeling a bit, well, useless. No one likes to feel unneeded, including your teen. Does he or she have responsibilities around the house? Is there anyone depending on him or her? Or do you keep your expectations low, either because he’s unreliable or because she’ll have adult-sized responsibilities, soon enough? While overworking teens and leaving no time for fun can be a downer, packing a life full of empty pleasures can feel, well, empty. Your teen needs to know the satisfaction of a job fulfilled as well as the joy of sacrificially serving others.
By helping your teen develop patience, look forward to the future, and realize that someone relies on him, you’ll be doing more than decreasing his chances of suicide: You’ll be saving his life.