A version of this forum letter was published in the Straits Times on 7 August 2019.
We are deeply concerned that the number of suicides for male teenagers aged 10 to 19 hit a record high in 2018 (Number of male teenage suicides hits record high; 29 Jul).
Research revealed that youth with a strong and close relationship with their parents were more likely to also report lower levels of depressive symptoms, suicide thoughts, self-harm, and conduct problems. Instead, these same youth were more likely to report higher levels of self-esteem and better use of their free time. (Connectedness to family, school, peers, and community in socially vulnerable adolescents)
The findings indicated that connectedness to parents was especially important for the well-being of youth. Hence, the researchers recommended the fostering of parent-child bonds and helping parents to build up their parenting skills to achieve better outcomes for their children. (ibid.)
Parents, therefore, play a crucial role in protecting adolescents against the risk of suicide when they invest time and effort to build a stronger relationship with their teenagers. One way they can do this intentionally is to equip themselves with parenting books or parenting workshops.
Focus on the Family Singapore, for example, conducts Parent-Coach Dialogues, in which an experienced Family Coach help parents take a targeted and intentional approach to parent their unique child.
When it comes to boys, parents can help their sons with their ability to regulate their emotions. A study found that parents who acknowledged and articulated their infant’s emotions had babies who were more able to manage their own emotions and cope with challenges. (Mind-Mindedness – Parents’ Ability To Represent And Hold In Mind The Internal States Of Their Infants – Predicts How Well Babies Are Able To Manage Their Own Emotions)
Parents can be mindful about how boys experience and express certain emotions. For example, when boys are anxious, it may manifest in defiant or rebellious conduct because they are acting out their anxiety. They may not know how to talk about their anxiousness and other overwhelming emotions, and so, they express it through oppositional behaviour. (Signs of Anxiety Are Different in Boys — Learn What to Look Out For)
In these moments, instead of responding with reprimand or punishment, it can be more helpful if parents can first calm their sons down and assure them of their love for them, then teach them to identify and talk about what they are feeling, and deal with these emotions in a healthy way. With practise, boys will be more able to regulate their difficult emotions and adopt more productive behaviour when they face challenging circumstances.
As parents build a strong and close relationship with their sons, as well as guide them to develop emotional regulation skills, they are playing the essential role of nurturing their sons’ resilience and protecting them from the risk of suicide.
Raphael Zhang (Mr)
Family Life Specialist
Focus on the Family Singapore
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