Should Your Teen Set New Year’s Resolutions?

As the first few days of 2012 roll by, many people will be talking about and setting their New Year’s resolutions.  However, even those who set resolutions don’t always expect them to be successful.  The statistics don’t lie; 35% of those who make resolutions don’t even make it through the first day.  But, statistics go both ways.  According to a study completed at the University of Scranton, almost half of those who set resolutions go on to achieve some degree of success as opposed to only 4% of those who think about setting goals, do not commit to a specific resolution.

If you are interested in helping your teen set and stick to a couple New Year’s resolutions, think about making it a family affair.  Setting goals together fosters the type of supportive environment that helps people succeed at making life changes.  Even if each family member has their own set of resolutions, you can act as accountability partners for each other and work together to stay on track.  In addition to the family unity benefits that this type of activity can offer, getting teenagers to start thinking what they want to achieve will help them develop the skills needed for long-term planning.

If your teen is resisting participation, talk about why goals and resolutions are important from your perspective.  Then listen to their objections thoughtfully.  If you cannot convince them to get on board, seek some kind of compromise.  Resolutions and goals must be sincere to be attainable.  Forced or begrudging participation may result in a list of resolutions, but it isn’t likely to result in long term change.

To help both parents and teens set their resolutions, we pulled together a list of some of the more common resolutions to provide each group a place to start.  As you work through the list and determine your own resolutions, remember that being sincere about the resolutions you set and believing that you can succeed are the two factors that will contribute most to your success.

Ideas for Teens

  1. Commit to helping out around the house in one new way every week.
  2. Commit to being more helpful to your family or more social at school.
  3. Make yourself available take over the care of the family pets.
  4. Make a commitment to turn on the TV less.
  5. Decide to be nicer to your brothers and sisters, especially if they look up to you.
  6. Decide to read more, and to read just for fun.  Set a goal for how many additional books you want to read next year.
  7. Resolve to ask for help when you need it and take help when it’s offered.
  8. Resolve to volunteer and give some of your time to someone else.
  9. Commit to being more organized and make a plan for how you will get organized and stay that way.
  10. Commit to taking school seriously.

Ideas for Parents

  1. Resolve to be a healthier family and set a good example for your children.
  2. Commit to eating dinner together at the table several nights a week.
  3. Decide to focus on getting more quality time with both your children and your spouse or significant other.
  4. Choose a home improvement project or a vacation that they family can plan and undertake together.
  5. Resolve to enforce your own rules.
  6. Commit to helping your children establish and adhere to their own boundaries.
  7. Decide that when interacting with your teen, you will listen more than you talk. 
  8. Commit to saying one sincere, positive thing about each member of your family every day.
  9. Choose to focus on the good decisions your teens make at least as much as you focus on the bad decisions they make.
  10. Resolve to get your teen or your family whatever help they need to overcome their challenges and make it through their struggles successfully.

Preventing Teen Suicide: What Parents Need to Know

Teenagers

For many parents, it is difficult to understand why an adolescent who has their whole life in front of them, would consider ending it prematurely through suicide.  As children make the transition to teenagers, they become more private and generally stop sharing their thoughts and feelings as openly with their parents.  This can make it even more difficult to gauge when normal teenage angst develops into clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, or suicidal tendencies.

Many factors may contribute to teen suicide. Compared to the stress and pressures of adulthood, teenage problems may seem small and unimportant to us.  Things like not fitting in at school, being bullied, and losing friends and first loves are just a normal part of growing up to most adults.  It is often hard for us to remember that these normal things often carry a huge emotional toll for teens.  We know that her boyfriend breaking up with her isn’t the end of the world, but it can feel that way to her.  We can see that not making the basketball team doesn’t mean he won’t be successful in life, but it can feel that way to him.

As the third leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 and the fourth leading cause for those aged 10 to 14, suicide is a serious issue for teenagers.  A survey of high school students showed that more than half of them had thought about suicide and almost 10% admitted to trying it at least once.  No matter how well-adjusted you think your teen is, it is important to know the warning signs and when to intervene to keep your child safe.

Who is at Risk?

Adolescence and the teen years are a time of turmoil and rapid change.  Between forming their own identities, learning to deal with new sexual feelings, struggling to figure out where they fit in, and the pressure to perform in school, teens can easily become overwhelmed.  If teens feel like they don’t have a reliable support system or if they lack healthy outlets for dealing with their tumultuous emotions, it can leave them feeling disconnected and alone both of which increase the risk of suicide.

For many teens who attempt or commit suicide, this desperate act comes directly after a stressful event in their lives like the end of a relationship, death of someone close to them, parental divorce or separation, or something they perceive as a life altering failure like being cut from a sports team or doing poorly in school.

Teenagers, especially girls, who were subjected to any kind of abuse as children are more likely to attempt suicide.  In general, girls are more likely to think about suicide and are twice as likely to attempt suicide as boys.  However, boys are four times as likely to succeed.  The risk of suicide increases when there are guns in the home which means parents need to maintain safe storage practices for all firearms even when their children have grown into teens.

Here are other factors that increase the risk of suicide in adolescents and teenagers:

  • A psychological problem like depression or bipolar disorder. 95% of people who commit suicide were mentally ill when they took their life.
  • Recurrent unpleasant feelings like isolation, distress, hopelessness, worthlessness, and irritability.
  • Learning how to handle emerging sexuality including homosexuality in an unsupportive environment.
  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • A family history of mental health problems or suicide.
  • Being a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

The Warning Signs

In order for parents to be able to protect their children from suicide, they need to know what to watch for.  Here are some of the warning signs that your teen may be suicidal.

  • Drastic changes in personality, appearance, sleep habits, or appetite.
  • Relationship drama with a girlfriend/boyfriend.
  • Withdrawing from friends, social groups, and activities.
  • Unexplained drop in grades.
  • Participating in rebellious and/or dangerous behavior
  • Running away from home or giving away personal items that are important to them.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Writing or talking about death and suicide.
  • Previous suicide attempts.

What Parents Can Do

The most important thing parents can do is talk to their children and listen when their children talk to them.  Many teenagers who contemplate suicide feel like no one understands them or cares about them.  Talking to your teen about their lives, expressing your love for them, and ensuring your teen knows you are there to help, no matter what problem they are facing, all help reassure them that you are there, that you care and that you want to understand.

When your teen opens up, don’t minimize, judge, or dismiss their concerns.  Regardless of whether or not you think her failure to make the cheerleading squad is a life or death situation, she might and downplaying her emotional reaction only shows her you don’t understand what she is going through.

Pay attention to your parental intuition.  If you feel like something is wrong, don’t downplay your own emotions either.  Ask your teenager about what is going on in their lives, what they are concerned about, and share your concerns with them.  Talk in specifics rather than generalities.  Listen to what they say and don’t say.  Don’t talk over them, interrupt them, correct them, or be dismissive of their concerns or problems.    Ask the other people in their lives like teachers, counselors, and friends.  Don’t shy away from the “s” word.  If you are concerned about suicide, ask directly and invite your teen to participate in an open discussion on the topic.  Get help right now.  If you have concerns about suicide and think there is a possibility of your child being a danger to themselves, don’t wait.  Find a mental health professional to assess your child today.