It was a Saturday night and my husband told me we “had” to watch Dear Evan Hansen. I had figured out what it was about (yes, I was clueless) and I told Seth that I didn’t think I could watch it. Our daughter Ella left the room and said it was too sad for her. I think it would have been a good experience for all my children to watch it with us. Seth told me to look at it through a social work lens and it helped me get through the movie.
Suicide is such a hard topic. It is a hard topic, but it is a necessary topic. I told my friend when she was depressed that she could call me or show up at my door any time of day or night. I meant it. I need to tell her this again. It takes one desperate moment to commit suicide and in that moment we need people to know that they can turn to us. Tell someone this today. Tell someone that you will be there for them any time of the day or the night.
If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I strongly recommend it as it is eye opening as a parent. It is good for our teenagers to watch it too. I recommend debriefing (discussing) after you watch it together.
The main character is Evan, and you feel bad for him from the beginning of the movie. His single mom works a ton of hours, and he seems to be alone a lot. He also doesn’t seem to have friends and he sits alone in the lunchroom. Connor is another teenager in the movie struggling. He seems to have his own inner demons that he is dealing with and is a loner. He signs Evan’s cast and tells Evan that they can now both pretend to have friends. My eyes were filled with tears. The difference between the two families was tremendous and both boys were struggling. Any child could be struggling. It doesn’t matter how much money their family has. Connor lived in a beautiful house while Evan’s mom seemed to be struggling more financially. The difference economically didn’t seem to make a difference. If only these two boys could have connected and helped each other. Instead, Connor took his own life. Cue more tears.
There were warning signs in both boys. Connor had been struggling for a while and had previously attempted suicide. He was a loner who didn’t have any friends and had very poor coping skills. He screamed at Evan in the hallway when he thought Evan was laughing at him. He visibly seemed to be distraught. He had rage issues and we were shown holes in his bedroom walls. It wasn’t hard to see that Connor had deep issues. This was pretty obvious to his parents, his sister, and anyone who took notice.
Evan on the other hand, had a much different scenario. Evan is a quirky, sweet teen. His mother seems so busy working that she hasn’t noticed how lonely and sad he is. His only “friend” tells Evan that he is just a family friend he is not actually his friend. That was a dagger to the heart when I heard this boy say that to Evan. Evan sat alone in the lunchroom. That really gets to me. If we see someone sitting alone in the lunchroom that is a red flag right there.
In elementary school right now, I believe that they are all sitting in individual desks during lunch. Don’t get me started on this. At least they have friends sitting around them that they can talk to. Technically they all are sitting alone right now. I used to regularly work lunch duty as a parent volunteer. The kids thought that I was a lunch lady who worked at school. As a social worker at heart, I used to walk around the room to check on all the kids. I made sure every child was talking to someone or feeling included in a group. In fact, Lillie’s teacher wins the compassion award. The first couple days of school he took his students to lunch and made sure that every child had a friend to sit with. My heart absolutely melted when I saw him doing this. Every teacher reading this please take note of this and do this for your students. I don’t care what grade they are in.
If I could start a movement today, my movement would be that “No child should sit alone.” Please read that again and take that in. If you work in a school, please help with this. No child, no matter what grade they are in should be sitting alone. My daughter couldn’t find one of her friend’s that she wanted to sit with at lunch. She is in 7th grade. It is very stressful at the beginning of school because you have to find your friends, and find a table, and then you aren’t allowed to switch again. Too many rules for me. I understand now for the purposes of contact tracing with Covid but give them a week to figure out where they want to sit. Thankfully Ella found a couple of her good friends to sit with. They noticed a girl sitting alone and they asked her to sit with them. I am crying as I type this. There are moments in parenthood when you feel like you are doing a good job. This was one of them. I told Ella how proud I am of her and her friends. In fact, I should go tell their moms in case they don’t know what this fabulous trio did. I hope that we are all raising our kids to be inclusive. To notice the child sitting alone. To notice the child who is crying. To offer a hand or to help. I know you want your child to get good grades, play sports and have friends. Let us also raise compassionate kind human beings.
I wish that I could talk to my teenager self. I don’t want to go back. I am so happy to be the confident, secure, 45-year-old that I am today. I am a completely different person. When people tell me they want to go back to high school I look at them like they are crazy. My husband went to the same high school but we weren’t friends. He was a grade under me, and I knew his name. I was one of the captain’s of the cheerleading team and I spent all my time with my cheerleader friends and my boyfriend. My husband Seth looking in on my life thought that I was super confident. He said, “You were a popular pretty cheerleader, what issues could you have had?” That is the thing right there. We don’t realize that almost every teenager/person has their own struggles. Seth looked at my life and probably thought that it was perfect. I had my parents and my brother. I had my friends and my boyfriend. I was a smart cheerleader. I got good grades. What was my problem? Now looking back, I wish I could talk to my 16-year-old self and tell her a lot of things. I wish I could tell her how wonderful she is. How her heart is the most important thing. That she is sweet, kind, smart, athletic and that she should have a ton of confidence.
I was insecure. I know what it is like to be a teenager. I am telling you this because even if you think your child has a picture-perfect life, do you know what’s going on inside of them? Ask questions! I was told talking to a teenager in the car is the most successful. They aren’t facing you and it is less threatening. Catch them in a good mood and talk to them. Some days they open up more than other days. Find out what struggles they may be having. What do they think about themselves? Do they feel they have a best friend to talk to? Do they know they can come to talk to you about anything? How do you react when they tell you something? If you freak out, you are setting yourself up for them to not want to talk to you.
Your child needs to know that they are not alone. This is so important. Ask them who they have to talk to? Tell them it can be you but that it doesn’t have to be. Do they have another adult that isn’t a parent to talk to? Do they feel they have friends? Are they inviting people over to hang out? Are they going to do things with friends?
Suicide prevention tips:
- Don’t hesitate to get your child some help. Find a good mental health professional they can talk to if they seem depressed or anxious. Look up the warning signs for depression and anxiety.
- Talk to your children. Ask specific questions about their day. Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything. I told my kids that whether it is sex, drugs, friendships, etc., that they can talk to me about anything. I told them that I am an open book. Trying to have dinner together as a family is important for this. I know we can’t do it every night, but we can try!
- Normalize human emotions. Tell them about times you have felt sad and angry. Tell them about stories from high school and middle school. I told my daughter that I didn’t like middle school either. It is a tough and awkward age. They need to know that things they are going through are normal. They need to know that hard phases pass. Max says that high school is 100 times better than middle school. I make sure to tell Ella this.
- Encourage your child to have friends. Suggest people to have over. Have friends over to your house. Have your house have an open door where their friends feel welcome. Suggest things for your kids to go do with their friends. Lillie always wants to be with a friend. Max and Ella like down time and alone time. This can concern me sometimes and I need to make sure that they have some friend time.
- Encourage them to be physically fit. You can even exercise with them. Get them involved in a sport. The more active they are the happier they will be. Being involved in a team also gives them somewhere to belong. Help them figure out what they are interested in. Ella doesn’t want to play a sport, but she loves going to theater.
- Keep all medications and firearms in safe locations. Firearms should be locked up and medications should be too (including Tylenol, Aspirin, etc.). You don’t want to give them access to things that could harm them.
- Don’t shy away from this topic. Talk about hard topics with your children. That will show them that they can talk to you about anything.
- Are they saying things that are concerning? Have they talked about not wanting to wake up in the morning? Have they said that they wish they were dead? Are you hearing any warning signs?
- Observe your children. Do they seem ok? You know your child. Watch them. Are they eating? Are they sleeping? Are they talking to friends? Do they smile? Who do they talk to at school? Who do they sit with at lunch? My husband makes fun of me because he asks the learning questions and I ask the relationship questions. I know that it is important to have people to sit with and talk to at school.
It was definitely a hard movie for me. Two days later and it is still on my mind. It makes me want to go be a social worker in a school so that I can be that person that a child can come to talk to. It only takes one adult to make a difference in a child’s life. My friend worked lunch duty yesterday. She posted on Facebook how happy she was when she helped a kindergartener in the lunchroom. One adult can make a difference in a child’s day. I used to smile at every single child I saw when I did lunch duty. It made my day to see them and talk to them and try to make them smile. Go smile at someone. It sincerely could make their day.
Watch out for your children. Watch out for their friends. Be the person that they can talk to. Be the person that their friends can talk to. Remember that even the popular cheerleader could feel insecure and have issues. It isn’t just the loners but please watch out for the loners. Please help me make it so that no child is sitting alone in the lunchroom. That is a step that we can all take. Especially if you work in a school. If you are a teacher, aide, administrator, volunteer, lunch lady, please look around the lunchroom. Does every child seem to have someone to talk to?
Go smile at someone.
Go tell your child that they can talk to you about anything. Ask them specific questions about their day.
If you have access to the lunchroom, please make sure that no child is sitting alone.
We can all make a difference in someone’s life today.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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