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In the last section, we discussed myths five through eight that the families of suicidal teen clients may have about suicide. These four myths are, once a person is suicidal he or she is suicidal forever, suicide is inherited, all suicidal people are mentally ill, and suicide occurs exclusively among the poor or the famous.
In this section, we will discuss four barriers to communication between adolescents and parents that may compound a teen’s suicidal crisis. These four barriers are labeling, mixed messages, over or underreacting, and nonverbal messages.
4 Barriers to Communication
♦ Barrier #1 - Labeling
Unfortunately, as you know, all that labeling or put downs accomplish is to put distance between the child and a needed source of support, and the parent may feel resolved of responsibility for the problem. The teen is left with feelings of anger and damaged self esteem because this barrier offers no help in resolving the problem. Put downs may also cause the same result. One form labeling and put downs may take is lecturing.
Brandy, 14, became depressed with suicidal ideation after her boyfriend Paul broke up with her in favor of a popular girl on the cheerleading squad right before the homecoming dance. Brandy’s mother, Tonya, did not understand how what she perceived as a minor disappointment could result in Brandy’s suicidal crisis. Tonya stated to Brandy, "Look honey, you’re too young to understand. Paul’s just one boy. There are other fish in the sea."
Other forms of put downs and labeling include being critical, having all the answers, sarcasm, power plays, ordering, prescribing, giving advice, sermonizing, withdrawal and silence, and questioning or fault-finding.
♦ Barrier #2 - Mixed Messages
Mixed messages also complicate a teen’s suicidal crisis in the other direction. A teen client who is suicidal may use mixed messages directed at their parents or peers, resulting in a communication barrier. Despondent over failing grades, Carl, 16, confided in his best friend Doug that he was planning to kill himself.
Doug alerted police, but when the police arrived at Carl’s home, Carl assured the officers he was only joking. A search of the home revealed no weapons, and the chief of police later described Carl as seeming calm, with a positive attitude. Two hours after the authorities left, Carl successfully completed suicide by hanging himself.
♦ Barrier #3 - Over or Underreacting
Passive Listening Technique
Unlike overreacting, underreacting minimizes what the teen may feel is a major issue, feeling, or problem. Being told, ‘don’t get so upset’ conveys that the adult does not understand and is not willing to share the teen’s feelings or pain. Underreacting adults may unconsciously withdraw physically and emotionally from the teen.
♦ Barrier #4 - Nonverbal Messages
Think of a teen client who you are currently seeing as a result of a suicidal crisis. Would assessing these barriers to communication in the teen’s family be helpful in your intervention?
In this section, we have discussed four barriers to communication between adolescents and parents that may compound a teen’s suicidal crisis. These four barriers are labeling, mixed messages, over or underreacting, and nonverbal messages.
In the next section, we will discuss four parenting skills for setting limits that can help a teen in a suicidal crisis. These four skills are develop clear rules, eliminate vagueness, be direct, and develop a joint language.