Last month I was invited to speak to a group of grade 7 and 8 parents about teen mental illness, what I’ve learned of our dealing with Madeline and what we were hoping to accomplish with The Maddie Project. We scheduled a date. I provided a summary of the content, and an agenda was sent out to all parents to express an interest in attending.
This wasn’t the first time schools have approached me to talk to parents and kids alike. HOPEFULLY, sharing our experiences and what we went through can help prevent a similar fate for another family.
The night before my discussion, I received a call from the school coordinator saying they cancelled the engagement due to a lack of interest. There is something ironic about the fate of my speaking event and the basis of my discussion. The topic I chose was called “Wake Up Parents, You Could Lose Your Child to Suicide.” I’m not upset but found the indifference or naivety of some parents to be unfortunate. I hope I’m mistaken and that all these parents are addressing all of these issues proactively.
My discussion for that evening was intended to go accordingly:
Every parent’s worst and unimaginable nightmare is losing their child. It’s the tragedy that I repeatedly play in my mind wondering what could I have done differently. What were some of the indicators that I wish I had been more aware of and steps I could have taken to prevent my worst imaginable nightmare? The one thing that parents realize after hearing Madeline’s story, her life wasn’t too different from many of their children. In fact, on the surface, many think how this intelligent, beautiful, popular teenager could take her own life. The reality is life can change in a moment, and that decision can never be reversed. What drives me crazy are the parents that look at Madeline’s situation as an anomaly and think that this could never happen to my child. My response is Wake up, parents. It could happen to you, as it happens to many youths and young adults. It’s an irreversible decision that can shatter your family and alter your life forever.
This is not intended as a scare tactic but only as a wake-up call to those unassuming and unsuspecting parents who feel that our tragedy can only happen to someone else.
These are my observations; many realized in retrospect only after we had lost our Maddie.
Keeping Your Kids Engaged in a Focused Activity:
Kids not only need a sense of purpose, but they need to be physically active. We’re not talking about seven days a week for 2 hours a day either. It needs to be intense and purposeful. The intensity is individual to each child. The kids have to feel they are good at it and, most importantly, love it. Madeline was a competitive swimmer, and she was very talented. She grew early and excelled in the pool. As the kids caught up to her in height, some tended to catch up to her in the pool. She became discouraged, frustrated, lost confidence, which translated to her results in the pool. For Madeline, the psychological race was taking over for her. As a result, she wanted to quit. I believe we relented too quickly instead of putting her into a less intense program. After that, she stopped swimming. She seemed to lose her purpose, discipline and focus. For a teenager, this becomes a slippery slope.
Divorce Affects Your Kids:
I’m not saying to stay together for the sake of your kids, but certainly, keep it civil for the sake of the kids but make sure you’ve exhausted all resources before you decide to go down this road. Divorce isn’t easy on the parents, but it’s even more difficult on the kids. They had no choice in the process and were impacted more than anyone else. Two homes, two routines, packing up and moving every week is not fun for them. Most divorces are incredibly emotional. Things get overheard or even worse when kids are told of details that they should be insulated from. If a divorce is inevitable, then put your kids’ emotional well being ahead of your own.
Push Beyond the Usual Routine Responses:
As parents, we need to push beyond the normal boundaries of our conversations with our kids. The “school” question is usually responded to in the usual fashion when asked how their day at school was. “Fine” is typical, or as my kids tend to say, “It’s school, Dad!” The question is vital to parents but not so crucial to the lion’s share of kids. We tend to miss the relevant mark with our kids. To most kids, school is a necessary evil and does not keep them up at night. We tend to see school as the most crucial topic in our kids’ lives, but it doesn’t rank nearly as important as other topics in a typical 13 to 16-year-old. Things like mental health, bullying, drugs and alcohol rank higher as a concern for kids over school. And we wonder why we’re not having honest conversations with our kids today. By the way, research backs this point up significantly.
Managing Electronic Devices:
Kids will stay on their devices all night if you let them. It is essential to manage the time that they spend on them. Handing in their phones, two hours after school and around dinner and then have a cut off time before bed. This is paramount to your child’s success, happiness, and sleep patterns. Oh, by the way, you need to abide by the rules as well. No exceptions!
One on One Time:
Having more than one child means juggling multiple schedules and challenging logistics. Being a single parent makes this especially difficult to manage. But having individual time with each child is essential in developing trust and a significant relationship with your child. The boys and I have always had hockey to bond over. Sawyer and I read together every night. With Madeline, it was more complex, and I sometimes felt I spent a disproportionate amount of time with the boys over her. It wasn’t by design but rather by schedule. Madeline and I would try to grab lunch or a coffee, but it wasn’t near as often as I’d spend with the boys and their hockey. Fathers talking to daughters or Mothers talking to their sons can be especially difficult, but all the more reason to address it head-on.
Kids Want Boundaries:
To say that kids prefer no rules versus rules brings the typical “Duh” response, but kids need and want boundaries. They need to know how far they can push and understand the consequences if they breach them. There’s a fine line between creating boundaries and micromanagement. The other element that is paramount in this equation is mutual trust.
This is a difficult one, but I feel it is imperative. It represents an inability for kids to escape the pressures of school, bullying and peers. Kids can be cruel and sometimes without even realizing it. It’s essential to manage expectations, content and time spent on Snapchat, Instagram and Musically. It’s probably pretty obvious at this point but ensuring that your kids have private accounts and not open forums or ensuring your kids include you as “Friends” on these sites is important. Good luck with the latter point!
Hug Them Through The Anger:
This one is somewhat counter-intuitive but effective. A full-on yelling match with your teen will not help the situation, your relationship or the potential for resolution. It was always effective when utilized, but the challenge is consistency, taking a deep breath before you decide to engage and try for resolution in a public place. Hugging in a public place may not go over well with your kids, but trying to resolve your disputes in a public place will keep things relatively calm and civil.
It’s Alright To Admit You Don’t Have All the Answers:
As a parent, many think we have to have all the answers for our kids. You don’t, and that’s alright. It goes a long way to establishing trust with your kids and makes for better conversations. Why not see if you can both try to explore and uncover the answers together. No one likes a know-it-all. Your kids are no different.
Don’t misinterpret the intentions of this post. My experience with Madeline does not earn me the right to pontificate about being a better parent but only to draw upon the misjudgements that I made along the way. Maybe I am the only parent that wasn’t aware of what I wasn’t aware. Teen mental illness can come entirely out of left-field. There can be strong indicators that have established themselves far in advance. The one thing in common is tragedy can occur in a fleeting moment, and no corrective action is possible when it strikes.
Please share and help support The Maddie Project by bringing greater awareness and access for youths and their families affected by depression and other mental illnesses.
Through the bankruptcy of his first business, a strong balance sheet means nothing unless you can get the money out of your business and into your hands personally, tax efficiently, and creditor protected. Chris helps and coaches business owners to avoid a similar fate as he suffered in his first business.
Through several clever strategies, he illustrates how these little-known vehicles can get money out of your business efficiently, build your corporate brand and create a legacy through charitable means to help make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Also, he has seen the impact that mental health can have upon success within your business and your life and how the two are on a constant collision course. When Chris became aware that Entrepreneurs struggled with their mental health at more than twice the rate of average adults, he realized he wasn’t alone and made it his ambition to understand why and do something to help. His business, The Finish Line Group, aims to help support the entrepreneur’s financial, philanthropic, and emotional needs.
Chris’ Why Statement remains, “To openly communicate the lessons learned from my past so that others will thrive in their lives, minimize their setbacks and leave a positive and lasting legacy.”