BRUNSWICK, Ohio – What’s a parent to do? That question has been asked many times over the past week as the community tries to deal with the suicides of two high school students.
The evening of Jan. 21, several hundred people came to St. Ambrose Church to find some answers. Adults were invited into the main church while young people gathered in the chapel.
Kaitlyn Boblik, a 12-year-old middle school student said that she was trying to make sense of everything that had happened. “The second day back to school, we talked about it a lot,” she said. “We spent most of the time in choir talking about it. The day after, there was a morning announcement that if we needed to talk to someone there were counselors, the principal and vice principal we could talk to.”
She also said that an eighth grader had placed sticky notes on everyone’s locker with positive messages on them and she thought that was a great help.
Her mother, Kimberlee, is involved with the Brunswick Pride Foundation formed after the death of four students in an auto accident last year. “We’re blessed to have a community that comes together in times like these,” she said.
Rebecca Hufbach, 16, is a student at Hoban High School who belongs to an organization that lets young people talk through difficult issues. “I’m trying to find a way to help,” she said.
The Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose said that it had been “a daunting week for the community,” but that it was important, as adults, to separate the issues involved and make sense of them and to give children tools to grieve and then make sure they are making healthy, good choices.”
Father Bob’s brother, David Stec, principal at Padua High School and a longtime counselor, talked about the importance of talking with children about how they’re feeling and assure them that the adults in their lives love and support them and are there for them.
“Unfortunately, there is no perfect training manual for parents. There’s no one source to help navigate the difficulties that kids face,” he said. While the emotions teens face are the same as those their parents faced, there’s so much more these students deal with.
“Put the pieces of the puzzle together,” he said. “Watch for the signs that your child is having difficulty. Tell them you love them and are there for them. Not just on birthdays or Christmas, but every day.”
He advised parents to talk to their children about their own experiences with the grieving process. This may be the first time in a child’s life he or she is feeling this emotion and they don’t know how to react. Grieving is normal, he said, but if your child was not close to the person who died and the grieving goes on for an extended length of time, seek help.
Noting it is much better to detect signs of depression early, he cautioned parents to monitor telephones and computers. “If you don’t know what’s on your child’s phone or computer, you don’t know your child,” Stec said. He said that unless you remove the phone from the child’s bedroom, there is no escape from the 24/7 onslaught. “If cyber bullying is going on, the child can’t just leave school and get away from it. It follows him wherever he goes.”
He told parents to watch for changes in mood. If teens are unhappy, it’s not unusual. But if that unhappiness continues for a long period of time and is severe and you see real change, “Get help,” he said. “Talk to your child even if they give you those one word answers.”
He said to ask open ended questions, ask about friends and activities in which they are involved. “And don’t be afraid to ask if that child has ever thought of hurting himself. If they say yes or they are talking about suicide or saying things like you’d be better off without them, take them to the emergency room right then. Don’t wait.”
Most times, it won’t be that big moment, however, he noted, but if a parent is vigilant and can step in early, it’s much easier than finding out late in the process. “Teens are unhappy,” he said, “they’re always comparing themselves to others – but not to the whole person, just to the best parts of those people. Remind them everyone is unique and point out the beautifulness or handsomeness of every kid. There are no uber-kids, but a lot of angst.
“Set good, strong, realistic goals – not too high that they can’t achieve them, but no so low they question their worth,” he said. “Most of all, just listen. If you see behavior changes, like detentions at school or drop in grades, increased swearing, lying, not coming home on time, isolating themselves from friends or changing friends … put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Stec added, “Don’t be afraid to say you want to be sure they are not suicidal and that you are always there for them.” He added that you can also say that if they do something wrong, you will be mad at them, because you are the parent. But you love them more than you’ll be mad at them. Love your children, even though you may not always like them.”
He said the community, school and churches have trained people wanting and willing to help and to take advantage of those opportunities.
He suggested websites like helpguide.org and suicide prevention sites that have helpful suggestions. “Do your research,” he said.
Father Bob joined his brother, playfully punching him to bring home the point that when a child is in danger and hurting, parents need to step in and protect their children.