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12 Year Old Voicing Suicidal Thoughts - Is This Normal?

by Lynn
(Brooklyn)

My 12 yr old daughter is having feelings that I want to know as a parent if it is normal? She has told me she's feeling sad depressed and anxious and also has suicidal thoughts.

She just got her menstrual period. I sat and talked with her and asked her how long has she been feeling this way. She says I don't know.

I told her that I remember having mood swings at her age as well. I told her when I was her age I didn't know why I was feeling this way and I know it's hard at 13-15 yrs old.

I also asked her if she would act on her suicidal thoughts. She said no. I said to her that she can talk to me any time and I will listen and I that we all love her. She's not ready to talk to me and has held things in before.

Last year she was seeing a therapist. I think she talked to her for about a year before she passed away. We were all sad, even I had had therapy with her.

I had explained we have to look for a new therapist but she was against it at the time, but that was last year. Now she does want to see a therapist, so I'm trying to find one now.

My concern is her feelings and suicidal thoughts - is this normal at her age? The next day she said she didn't have those suicidal thoughts - so I'm figuring mood swings with being hormonal?

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Supporting Young Teenagers-Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Always Take Talk Of Suicide Seriously


Hi Lynn,

Take this VERY seriously. Yes it may well be hormonal and mood swings but if a child is voicing these kinds of thoughts or expressing she has thought of suicide it is really important to pay attention (as you are).

Even if she is not seriously contemplating anything, clearly she knows this kind of conversation is going to get you worried.

So why does she want you worried?

She may well be feeling a little embarrassed the next day that she made those kind of statements, and she may have been feeling fine the next day. It even could be a bit of a game to push Mom's worry buttons.

Whether she is serious or not - even if it was a bit of a drama moment - the bottom line is - she is testing you out to check that you really are there for her. She is needing attention and I would suspect she does not a very solid
self esteem.

Is this behavior normal? Yes and No. Lots of teens have a fair bit of angst and drama and have times of feeling it is all too much.

But that would be when something happens - such as breaking up with a boyfriend, being dumped by a best friend, being shamed in public. "I just want to die, it hurts so much, how could he do this to me?" So talk like that can be in reaction to a temporary situation.

If it is a result of more chronic depression, then no it is not normal healthy thoughts.

Teenage Years Are Stressful


She is at an age when life can be pretty crazy. Yes hormonal changes play a big part in this, so does the influence of peers. More and more she will be affected and look to her peers as the
measure of what is cool, what is expected, how to behave, what is important. There are also school pressures and expectations on achievement, plus of course any family issues all contribute.

That can all add up to HUGE pressure and confusion.

When a teenager is generally depressed or anxious, or withdrawing, or has a history of depression or anxiety, then really pay attention.

Even if the suicide talk is not serious, she clearly is making some pretty strong statements about being unhappy.

You mentioned she has been in therapy before, so clearly she has had a history of not coping in some way. Then on top of that for her therapist to die - that has got to have added another layer into the mix of people I trust leave me, or I'm alone, or no-one understands me. That is a HUGE thing to deal with for anyone, let alone a child who has not been coping, and this person is the one person who was really listening to me.

Part Two Follows . . .

Supporting Young Teenagers-Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

What Are The Risk Factors For Teenage Suicide?


Mostly you are keeping an eye out for changes - or in her case because she already has some history of needing therapy, then watch for any escalation in her behavior.
Some things to monitor:

  • Is she withdrawing from normal family interactions and activities?(even bickering!)


  • Does she have a network of friends that she has fun with?


  • What is going on at school? Is she coping, have her grades changed? Does she like going to school? Is she completing assignments? Does she frequently take time off from school? Is she able to concentrate and participate actively in class?


  • Is she showering and taking care of her appearance? This can go two ways - if someone stops caring about what they look like and stops taking care of their body. Or becomes obsessive and anxious about clothes, hair, makeup. Teenage girls tend to have a huge focus on their looks - but is this fun experimentation and testing out hairstyles, clothes and makeup - or is it anxious, stressed, I hate how I look?


  • How does she respond to praise? Is she pleased or does she bat it back or negate it?


  • Is there any changes in her weight or her physical activities? Her body will be going through lots of changes, but if she starts loosing a lot of weight or getting obsessive about what she eats - or starts stuffing herself with food - both are signs she is not accepting her body or it's changes.


  • Does she still engage in activities? Is she involved in other things outside of school? If she starts dropping out of things, being bored and not motivated to try anything, then that is a warning.



More To Follow In Part Three . . .

Supporting Young Teenagers-Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

More things to monitor:

  • Is she getting enough sleep? Have her sleeping habits changed? Teenagers need WAY more sleep than younger children and are usually chronically sleep deprived. Teenagers need at LEAST 8 hours good quality sleep, many needing 10 or more. If she is finding it hard to sleep, or sleeping 12 hours and then not wanting to get up - then she is withdrawing from the world. And note: you may think she has gone to bed, but she maybe on Facebook or her phone for hours into the night.


  • Be alert for any signs of drug or alcohol use - you may think she is too young to be experimenting - but it most definitely does happen, and at this age her brain is in a huge developmental phase and drugs and alcohol can have a big negative impact.


  • Is she engaging in any risk taking behavior? - drugs and alcohol as above, stealing, is she sexually active? Does she put herself in situations she is not in control of?


  • Mood swings are par for the course with teenagers, so this is a hard one to monitor. But if you see a pattern of going into the depths of despair - then next day being manically happy and over the top - then is is not just normal mood swings.


  • Then of course, as you have done, be aware of any talk of suicide, anxiety or depression, and take it seriously


Part Four Follows . . .

Supporting Young Teenagers-Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Teenagers usually can't see the bigger picture - they get hurt or depressed and can't see the possibility that things will change next week, next month, next year.

It all feels totally overwhelming in this moment and they can't see a way out. And if they are having those kinds of feelings frequently, then they can get stuck down that big hole and need help to get back out.

How Can You Help?


I think given her history, and if she is agreeing, then a therapist is a good idea. It should NOT be the same person you see - I noticed you mentioned you also saw her therapist. That is fine when it is family therapy or you are there to support your daughter, but if you see a therapist about your own issues, then that is a conflict of interest and issues of confidentiality get too blurred, so that is not a good idea.

You have said all the right things to your daughter in regard to being available to listen, and encouraging her to talk to you.

However, sometimes our kids don't actually believe that - they see we are busy, we may well have ignored a tentative conversation or query from them, and they also don't always want to have a BIG deep and meaningful talk all the time.

What we want to aim for with our teenagers, is lots of opportunity for conversations way BEFORE they hit crisis point. By the time they have gotten really depressed, it is too hard to initiate anything. Particularly if they start to feel they are worthless or not important.

You can set up an agreement with her that you will drop EVERYTHING and be with her when she needs you. We are talking prevention here - not her waiting until she hits rock bottom.

She has to believe there are people there for her and that she is important and that she has the right to get your attention without having to talk about suicide or having a big drama event.

Part Five Follows . . .

Supporting Young Teenagers-Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Bonding And Committing


This is an activity you can do together - decorate some cards and write on them what she needs from you. Then at any time she can choose a card and just hand it to you and your agreement is to follow through.

You can negotiate to some extent - maybe you have to have five minutes to turn the elements off on the stove and pop to the bathroom. But the goal here is to reinforce to her that you are there is nothing is more important than her well-being.

We often fob our kids off while when we are busy - "not now" "just a minute" I'm busy right now". But then we forget to go back and check what they wanted, so they learn to stop asking or talking, and start thinking their needs are not important.

We have to respond and interact as quickly as possible or we may loose the opportunity to have meaningful conversations. More and more as our kids grow up, they talk to their peers instead of their parents. So you have to be available, and create opportunities to talk.

Having an agreement with the cards means she starts to believe you actually are there for her - you are not just saying you can talk to me any time, you mean it.

It also takes the pressure off her having to have an issue to talk about, or
having to try to approach you when she may well be withdrawn and not even knowing what is wrong.
Some ideas for the cards:

  • I need a hug.

  • Listen to me.

  • Just come and be with me.

  • Don't talk just listen.

  • I don't feel like talking yet but I need you to sit with me.

  • Come and listen to my music for 15 minutes.

  • Tell me why you love me.

  • Tell me all the things you think I am good at.

  • Tell me why I am special.

  • What are your special memories of me when I was little?

  • What do you value about me?


Part Six Follows . . .

Supporting Young Teenagers-Part Six
by: Annie Desantis

Those are some ideas to get you started - but more importantly, make up cards that your daughter wants and needs. Have a play day with her decorating them and making a cute box for them to live in.

If you have other children you can do this as a family activity too, where you all contribute needs and you all agree to drop everything when someone hands you a card.

But for now, create special times with your teenager daughter - any games or activities you do together increase the trust and bonding but also create opportunities to talk and more importantly listen.

Of course you love her, you care deeply about her and you have tried lots of things to support her, and you have done a great job raising her.

Despite that, sometimes our kids develop beliefs about themselves that are not healthy and can even be destructive.

Look For Opportunities To Increase Her Self Worth


You can go a long way in shifting that if you look for opportunities to let her know she is loved, she is valued, she is an important family member.

Set up some regular times to hang out with her. Don't wait for her to come to you for attention or to talk. Go to movies, go shopping, have a Mom and daughter day painting nails and doing each others make up and hair. The more you just hang out together, the more the conversations flow easily without having to have big sit down talks.

We are often very quick to jump in and give advice or minimize their concerns. But we also can make things worse if we over react! We need to listen more, ask for more clarification, probe a bit without being intrusive or looking for things that might not be there! Sometimes they need to vent, sometimes they are putting out feelers to see if we will respond or encourage them to talk in more depth.

The more you create positive and fun times with her, the more you gave the opportunity to help raise her esteem and believe she is OK and loved.

Part Seven Follows . . .

Supporting Young Teenagers-Part Seven
by: Annie Desantis

Increase Positive Energy
And Your Belief In Her


It is hard not to worry about our kids, and to some extent that actually doesn't help. If we are constantly projecting more anxiety and a belief that we think something is "wrong" with our kids, then we are adding to the situation.

You want to be showing your daughter you believe she can work things out, you believe she as a great future ahead of her, you know she is a wonderful unique little being with her own journey in this life and she will do just fine.

When our child starts talking about suicide we can actually make it worse by reinforcing that attention comes only when things get really bad.

So really work hard at creating lots of positive interactions with her so you are surrounding her in loving supportive energy, not worry and anxiety.

Hard to do I know, when at the same time you are keeping an eye out for the behaviors I listed above! But spend lots of time looking for all the ways she is doing well, the things she achieves or completes, look for ways to compliment her every day, all the little things you appreciate about her.

She certainly has let you know she needs more positive input, so that is a great thing and gives you something to focus on. Along with getting her some extra help to learn to cope better with life's ups and downs, she will build more resilience and learn to look on the brighter side of life.

Feel free to comment or add any follow up thoughts by clicking the link below.

with love,
Annie D :)

Other Pages You May Find Helpful
by: Annie Desantis

Information About Physical Development

Understanding Teenagers

Teenage Challenges
Teenage years can be a delight and a challenge for many parents. Heres some ideas on handling some of those tricky times!

Teenage Behavior
This Audio answers questions from readers about communicating with teenagers, in particular when teenagers withdraw. You can listen to it on the page.

Questions Submitted From Other Parents


Teenager Not Caring If He Lives

My Teenager Needs Help

17 Year Old Not Interacting

Teenager Daughter Hates The Family

Hopefully you might get some other ideas from some of my answers.

Suicide Thoughts For Over A Year
by: Teresa

Okay,
My name is Teresa and I have been having thoughts about suicide for a while now and it scares me.

I don't talk to anybody about it because I'm afraid of them calling me names and telling me to not be so dramatic.

I am twelve and it's very hard. If someone were to ask me if I would act on my thoughts I would probably say maybe because I think I would.

I really want help.

Teresa Please Talk To Someone
by: Annie

Hi Teresa,

Please please take a risk and talk to someone. Your life is precious and even though it feels overwhelmingly hard right now, I promise you that you are not alone in how you feel. And it will get better. But you need support and you need to be able to share how you feel.

If you feel your parents will not think you are serious then go to your school counselor or call Lifeline or Samaritans - there is most likely a phone counseling service in your area.

There maybe services near you specifically for teenagers. Parents don't intend to ignore their child's feelings, but they often don't realize how bad you feel. Sometimes it is much easier to talk to a neutral person who is not involved in the family and won't be reacting with their own stuff.

You need to find an adult who you can trust - maybe a teacher, or a coach who you feel is understanding, and say you need to find someone to talk to.

You are at a challenging age, so many things are changing in your body, and that also effects how you feel. Hormones can send us all a bit nuts sometimes! Kids at school can also be very cruel at this age, and it can feel like there is noone who understands.

There are people who can help you. You have taken a lot of courage to comment on my website - I don't know if you ticked the email notifications as that part is automatic and I don't see it. But I hope you check back here and take a deep breath and reach out a bit further to someone nearby who will be able to help you.

You might feel like life is too hard and no-one understands you - I know when I was 13, I was so unhappy it felt like the whole world was black. It does shift, and there are people out there who will believe in you and see how special you are.

You have so much still to come in your life, getting though this time will give you a strength and understanding about the depth of human emotions, that many people take years to work through.

Hang in there sweetie - you are loved, you are important, you are valued. Please keep reaching out and find people who can help and support you. And steer clear of the negative people who might bring you down.

Much love and a huge cyber hug,

Annie D :)

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Do you have a question or want to send a submission to Annie? Simply click here to return to Parenting Questions About Teenagers.

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