Teenage suicide is not a topic of my choice but one I now can’t stop thinking of.
A young man I knew decided this world was too… lonely? scary? uncertain? He has left everyone behind now.
His broken-hearted Mum said “Encourage them to talk…” in a hope that other families are not torn like theirs. And I certainly agree. I know there are other interesting young people in our world like him so maybe I can help those families with young swimmers experiencing depression.
Engagement in conversation with teens is a bit tricky at times. My coaching experience leads me to regularly speak to teens. I hope my experience can help someone.
Teens who were, in pre-COVID days, very busy individuals, have a big hole in their lives now. All that energy without a vent can spiral down. COVID has brought us to a very strange crossroads. Teenage life is tough enough but imagine going through this COVID situation as a teen! As adults we have coping mechanisms due to our experiences but we must pause and have some empathy for the teens around us. Adults cope by keeping things going with friends and family. By getting into their hobbies. But teens might not have that.
Anyone can begin to spiral into a dark place if they are left alone with their own thoughts. It is why solitary confinement is so evil. Talking with a friend will be a great joy; we all know it’s great to be around friends.
Engagement is the trick, and it’s tricky. To engage in conversation a question should be asked. For example…How was your day? A rubbish question like that will not engage because it can be answered with one word. ‘good’ or ‘fine’. And it is a stupid generic question with no thought anyways; stupid question…stupid answer.
Engagement in conversation creates a sounding board and is what friends do. Friends are interested in you. COVID has narrowed the number of sounding boards in our lives. Maybe down to none! As parents we must be included as a sounding board for our kids and in particular teens.
To get engagement you should ask a specific meaningful question. (Yes you must think about this question). Then…(the important bit).listen carefully.
Now you have the power in your hands to have a conversation with a teenager! Based on the answer, ask another question to begin a discussion. Just talking is enough. The important thing is to show you care enough to listen.
Teens will need a more intellectual and relevant question from you to be taken seriously. You will have to be able to ask a good question.
In our COVID-world our social space has shrunk. So parents may be one of the very few true interactions experienced every day by teens. Emotionally immature teens might not know how to initiate conversations. They are often too shy or get treated like small children (which they are not).
This young man loved coming to my swim camps in Perthshire. He quickly made friends and often had his lane laughing. He was integral to all of our games-hall games out of the pool, involved in every challenge, but mostly he really loved to swim!
He was always keen to learn and he was a sponge for new ideas to train or race faster. He was easy to coach and happy. If he wasn’t laughing he was smiling.
Anyone can get depressed, watch for warning signs. As parents, in particular Mothers, can tell if there is something amiss but only if we are engaged.
Corey, I was looking forward to seeing you at our next swim camp. You have made me sad and I wish this wasn’t happening too. Goodbye wee man, you are missed by all your friends.