, I’d already drafted this post before I noticed the top story pushed to the newsfeed on my phone this morning: One Teenager Killed Himself. Six More Followed. It’s a haunting story from the Wall Street Journal about the epidemic of teen suicides in Utah. I’ll let you read the story and come to your own conclusions, but here’s my truth for today– if you think you don’t need to worry about your kids’ emotional health, you’re wrong.
But I’m not just a purveyor of gloom and doom, I believe our weekly Come Follow Me discussions are the perfect opportunity for mental health check-ins.
We’re gathering as a family once a week, we’re talking, we’re praying, we’re probably discussing the events coming up in the next few days. Let’s just add in a few questions about anxiety, sadness, depression, who needs our prayers and our help.
In many ways, home centered, church supported church is nothing new. I think of it as taking Family Home Evening a little more seriously and with a much better curriculum. But it’s also an incredible opportunity for vibrant communication and family connection. Let’s make it truly powerful for our families.
According to an article on numan, one of the keys to emotional health is creating an environment where discussions about emotions, anxiety, depression, etc. are open and honest. When our kids know those feelings are normal, they don’t try to hide their sadness and they are much more likely to ask for help.
Several years ago, one of my sons had a panic attack. We started talking about emotional health ALL THE TIME. Those conversations soon became easy and productive. Everyone in our family knows they can talk about depression or anxiety and receive help, not judgment.
Our Come Follow Me discussions are the perfect time for a weekly emotional checkup. Go around the table, ask everyone how they are doing, ask how parents and siblings can help. You probably pray for your neighbor who has cancer and your niece serving a mission. Find out the specific needs of people in your own home and pray for them as a family. Create an atmosphere so safe and so loving and where talking about emotional health is so NORMAL that your kids (and your spouse, and YOU) don’t hesitate to speak up when you need a boost.
Make sure your kids know life is filled with trials, obstacles, rough weeks and rough years. We don’t need to feel bad about those stumbling blocks or about the cuts and bruises we acquire when climbing over them (or crashing into them) but we do need to take the hand that reaches out to save us. True self-reliance means asking for help.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying everything can be solved with family discussions and prayer. These weekly check-ins simply make it easier to talk about emotional health. Be sure to call a doctor or a therapist when you spot a real need.
If you have teens or pre-teens, add a personal check-in to the family discussion. Teens tend to be a little more private and may hesitate to bring up issues in front of the whole family. If you establish a weekly check-in with no judgment and no drama, your teen will be much more likely to share when they do need your help.
My friend Sarah sat in stake conference a few months ago listening to a faithful, ambitious boy in our stake talk about his preparation for his mission. Feeling the pressure of readying her own son who would be leaving on a mission in just a few years, she wrote a note to him during the meeting saying, “What are your goals for this year?”
He opened the note and Sarah watched him write for several minutes before carefully folding the note and sending it down the row back to her. With the folded paper in his hands, she felt the distinct impression, “Don’t read it. Just ask how you can help.”
So she scribbled back, “How can I help you?”
His response, “Encourage me and keep me organized.”
Every week since, they’ve had a check-in on Sunday afternoons where Sarah simply asks, “How can I help you?” Sometimes he lays on the couch and makes her come to him, sometimes they sit at the kitchen table and make a detailed plan for the week, but the communication is honest and open. Sarah does the same with her 14 year old son who suffers with severe anxiety. They make a plan, they often discuss his medication, and they’ve come up with truly innovative solutions to weekly obstacles.
Our world changes daily and as parents we must keep up. I believe one of the many reasons our prophet developed a home centered curriculum is to give us more time to talk to our kids. Your parents didn’t need to warn you about the dangers of sexting that led to this boy’s suicide (and I honor the parents of Tevan Tobler who shared the story of their beautiful son. I’m so sorry for their loss and heartache and in awe of their selfless desire to help others.) but you need to warn your kids. Add these warnings and discussions to your weekly discussion. These conversations won’t make Come Follow Me somber and depressing, they will make your children feel loved and safe.
Do you have other ideas for conversations about emotional health? I don’t pretend to know it all. Please share your thoughts.