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Tough Talks: Talking with teens about suicide and prevention over the holidays

12 News sat down with three experts to talk about approaching tough conversations about suicide and self-harm with kids.

PHOENIX — EDITOR'S NOTE: This article contains details about suicide and self-harm. 

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide or needs help today, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

The holidays can often be a time when families come closer together and kids are spending more time at home while on a break from school.  

It can also be a time for parents or guardians to check in with their kids.

In recent years, cases of suicide and attempted suicides have increased among teens in the United States. A 2021 CDC study found that suicide attempts resulting in ER visits rose drastically in teens and young adults during the first year of the pandemic, particularly in females.

Experts suspect the rise could be caused by several issues including stress from the pandemic, social media and other stressors causing feelings of depression and anxiety.

12 News sat down with three experts to hear what they have to say about checking in with your kids, how to approach these tough conversations and when to seek help.

Watch the full interview:

Our experts:

Katey McPherson: Katey is a child advocate and education consultant. She works with the parent-monitoring app Bark and Bark for Schools.

Paolla Jordan: Paolla lost her son Adrio in 2019 to suicide. She’s since worked to help other families by pushing new legislation and starting the Laloboy Foundation, which helps families with counseling stipends.

Joronda Mantaño: Joronda is an independent consultant with knowledge in a variety of subjects including suicide prevention. She also founded Neckup Checkup, an initiative to get parents to monitor their children’s mental health. 

Q: Why do you think rates and self-harm have increased over the past couple of years when it comes to teens?

KM: So many intersecting factors. Academic pressures, economic pressures on families, sense of disconnection with social media and devices are kind of taking over for some families. I would say those are a couple of things that have happened.

JM: And I think with that disconnection we see at school, before the pandemic, when kids were among each other, just not knowing how to connect. Because they're so used to just being in a device. That skill has really been stifled. Then with the pandemic, now having to be isolated, coming out of that and going back into a school setting, there's just a lot of confusion on how to connect.

RELATED: Arizona high school football players tackle suicide prevention

Q: And it might not always be thought of self-harm. It could be depression or anxiety. What are some things teens are facing right now?

JM: I can definitely comment on anxiety. I've been in the field, in my field, for a really long time. And anxiety was not a thing in the early 2000s. It was just not something that you saw kids experiencing or talking about. And then when we got to about, I'd say 2013 or so, it really just went through the roof. I heard more kids using the word anxiety and at younger ages. And so that definitely became something that kids were aware of. Not that it didn't exist before. But being able to put a name to it and being able to describe it in a way that someone else would understand. This is what I'm experiencing. 

KM: I think about the cost of college tuition, especially when you look at the at-risk group in Arizona, boys 15 to 17. So, the cost of college, about 20 years ago, we started to see that go up, and then SAT, ACT, college admissions got more competitive. Pressure, academic pressure and athletic pressure start in fourth, fifth grade. And so, we're starting to see that anxiety creep up academically and athletically, as well.

Q: Why might kids not want to share with their parents or share with others how they might be feeling?

PJ: I think it goes to parents. A lot of kids seem to feed off of their personality, the expressions and things that they're saying. And I find myself in my style of parenting that it's easy for us to talk about our past. And you know, when your kid is trying to explain what they're feeling, we tend to minimize what they're feeling or we're being dismissive to say, 'You're making a big deal, try being an adult,' and all of that. And what parents don't realize is they're missing the boat when the child is trying to open up.

Those are those opportunities that we need, to be listening more than speaking. That's a mistake I've made as a parent. And I think that they need validation. That doesn't remove our role to be a parent, but at the same time is that if we don't listen, they will be talking to strangers. And the fact is, is that teachers are overworked. And our counselors are overworked. So sometimes they can't give the time that the child needs that might be counseling or support with their pastor or a trusted adult. It's with social media.

It's made it so simple to get answers. But it's the quality of the answers that they're getting. They're there, they still don't. They don't the children don't have that experience of whether it's good advice or bad advice. And so, yes, parents want to be the ones that the kids come to. But if you're not available, they know that they're going to go to the next person.

KM: I think there's relatability. The digital age has brought on such a vast divide between how parents grew up and how kids are growing up. And so parents really need to do a deep dive into having their child identify the feelings and then having that open communication. They want to please their parents. And so sometimes, as a child, you experience a first.

A first break-up, a first scholarship decline, a first college admissions decline, a first anxious moment with a friendship group that excluded you. So I think we forget the intensity of those moments when we were offline. But now they have the in-person crush. And then they have the online avatar personal that they've created and everybody's watching. So, I think parents need to understand. There's a vast divide, and the sooner you can close that divide, the better you will have a relationship with your child.

JM: I think it's important that we also not forget that kids get in trouble for things and there's a fear of getting in trouble. With being digitally connected, there are so many opportunities to come across something intentionally or unintentionally. And I don't want to tell my parents, because I think I'll get in trouble. And even if I said, I wasn't looking for it, will they believe me? And so that I think that that's another layer, that it just exists in a different way than it did for the parents of those youth.

RELATED: White House rolls out new plan to combat gun suicides in US

Q: How do you approach these tough conversations with kids or teens?

JM: I do something called "car talk." When we're on the way to school, these are the conversations that come up. I actually film some of them, because it just brings in that element, you know. 

It's something that they're already familiar with. And we film it so that they can go back and watch it, we can all pay attention. And sometimes, I even post some of them. I just try to keep that connection and keep it relevant in having those conversations. Because we do it regularly. They're familiar. So, they understand that we're going to talk about these things.

PJ: Car talk - I call it "drive time." Don't send someone else to drive your kids to school. Make the time to drive them to their practices, pick them up from their practices, take them to the doctor's appointments, anything, I find that raising my two kids, most of those intimate conversations happen at drive time. And the reason being, I think, is because our eyes are facing forward. And we're not having to look eyeball to eyeball. Are they mad at me? They don't want to search for that, they want to be honest. I find they're more honest in their conversation where they don't have to look at one another and they're shoulder to shoulder and things are coming out of left field. 

And sometimes you know what will pull over you, you know, 'let's talk about that,' the kids can be late for school. But that moment comes and goes and that is the opportunity to have that honest conversation. If they miss half a day of school, this is far more important to find out what's ailing them inside and use that time wisely. I can't tell you how many times I've run into those important conversations through drive time.

Q: Sometimes teenagers might think it's not cool to hang out or talk with their parents. How do you approach kids in that phase of their life?

LPJ: Food. That's how I was able to reach my kids is through food. Let’s go grab an ice cream or let's go do this. You know, it doesn't have to cost a lot. Heck, I took my kids to Sonic. The little the happy hour. And food. I used to go to their rooms, I'm going to be going to bed would you like me to bring you a snack?’ It's just to show love. And they're like, can you bring me some M&Ms? Can you bring me an ice cream? That gave me permission to give it to them and stand in their doorway, and talk to them for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever may be. And that is it. So, it's kind of like drive time. That's an opportunity. And that worked really, really well.

KM: I think staying relevant. There's just so much going on. And sitting down and playing the video game with them. We know it's easy for parents to be like, ‘Why is he doing that? Burning his brain out on the video game?’ but actually playing with them and understanding what they're attracted to what's the new trend? Tell me more about this. They love when you take an interest in what they have an interest in. Even if you aren't super interested. 

JM: And not forgetting that they still are kids and letting them be that. We might have a kid who's the same height or taller than us. And our expectation is that they should have thought processes that are like adults, but they don't yet. So give them that leeway to just be a kid and grow into whatever it is they're going to grow into.

PJ: I didn't really get the video game thing. But what I came to learn is the kids that he had relationships for five and six years that he's been playing with for such a long time, these are true friendships. And I think that there needs to be some more education out there for parents to understand the video game world. Some people think it's really scary that that causes a lot of these issues that kids have. But they are real friendships. And the reason why we know that is my brother was a guardian since he was two years old until the day that he died, that he vetted these people to make sure they're not adults, and so forth.

And when we had these conversations, after his passing, they were talking about things that I didn't even know about my own son and they cared for him. The fact that they got to talk about real-life stuff. So, it's not just gaming, these, it's just like if they were sitting on a couch, conversing with one another, these are true friendships. He played with a bunch of kids in Canada, and in Florida. I just wanted to put that out there, because I don't think a lot of parents know what I learned after the fact. So, I didn't validate those friendships, I just thought you're just spending too much time and so on. So, we're used to, when we were kids, we play outside, these kids are playing video games, but not all of it is bad.

Q: How early do you think these conversations should be starting with your kids? 

KM: It’s never too early. And when you can start talking three, four or five - just about my brain and how my brain feels how my body's feeling. Incrementally as they age, kind of adding in more details, just like you would talk about sex or you're talking about drugs and alcohol, each of those conversations can be approached at an early age and then filling in details as they age with you.

JM: I have young kids, my youngest being six. So, as they get older, it sounds a little bit different. But he would know as a 3-year-old that sometimes your body hurts, and you might get an ow-ie on your body, but sometimes your head and your heart hurt. And you might get an ow-ie there and that might not feel so good. And asking him how does your heart feel? How does your head feel? How do your feelings feel?  And it's really interesting the way that little kids describe it, which might then spark something, if you have other kids for the other kids to say like, oh, okay, yeah, I do feel like that, or, I have felt like that before. 

For me, I have four kids. So, it becomes like this total reteaching moment that keeps going in this cycle. But with my first, same thing. Starting when he was really young, just talking about just feelings in general, and making sure that he understood that if you're not feeling good physically, or you're not feeling good inside of here, if this hurts inside of here, we need to talk about that. And sometimes that might feel like that. And is it okay for me to tell you that if my heart's not feeling so good today, or my head starts feeling so good today? So early, early, early.

KM: And trying to really hit on like when we talk about self-harm and suicide prevention. When someone is feeling like they're going to harm themselves or harm themselves to completion of suicide is really a narrowing of their lens, right? I have to get out of this inescapable pain. And so if at young ages you were really outlining for them, 'What would you do if you were in so much pain emotionally? What are your five strategies?' I can journal. I can go run the stairs. I can go punch my punching bag. Whatever that looks like. It's really outlining those strategies at a young age. So, when they hit that middle school, high school age it is so crucial that the lens is wider. This is my emotional blueprint of when I feel like this.

Q: What are some signs parents could look for if their child or teen isn't opening up? What are some signs or actions parents can take to really try and understand what's going on?

PJ: One of the things I learned about my son is that he had what you call concealed depression. So, on the outside, it looks totally fine. He napped a lot since he was a child. And so sleeping a lot not eating well, or not eating at all. There's a lot of those signs, that was all normal. 

And that didn't send up a red flag. What should have sent up a red flag was he was a gamer since he was like two years old. And so in that a month prior to him dying, he's he stopped playing video games. He was mad one day and said, ‘I'm not playing anymore. I'm done with it.’ And it was just very abrupt. And that was a very negative thing. And that just seemed like that was his world. Why would he do that? But it didn't register, because he's binge-watching other shows. 

So, I thought, well, maybe he's growing out of it. You know, he's a freshman in college, you know that's new. So, it didn't hit me. But it's the activities that you see them doing on a regular basis, or there have been some shifts, is where we need to ask more questions. I wish that I would have asked more questions.

JM: The word I always use is change. When you see change, any change, it's the reason for a conversation, you may walk yourself into a conversation that is totally unexpected. Or you may be walking yourself into a conversation where you've been there before. And so, your child is now going through a transition that it's the first time they're going through this transition, and it gives you an opportunity to sort of coach them. Either way, change. Look for change.

KM: Everything you want to know is on your child's device. I always encourage parents to monitor or supervise. Have an app or something where it's doing the work for you. A lot of times after we have completion of suicide, or we have something like a school shooting, we look at the student’s platforms. And typically we find red burning flags and signs of distress and conversations between them and fellow friends or classmates saying, 'this is how I'm feeling.'

Q: In what ways can parents monitor that?

PJ: There's a control panel on the computers. And there are those apps to send you text messages as a parent to know there are some key words things that they're using that are that whether they're on a porn site, whether they're using talking about drugs, or what do they think those kinds of things. 

It sends a parent a message. Nine out of 10 families that I talked to, have no protection whatsoever on their tablets, on their computers, their laptops, or their cell phones. And that's really, really sad to say. The one thing that wasn't protected is the cell phone that my son bought in his senior year. He's going to college next year, so I can't watch him forever. And I did not put that protection on that cell phone.

That's where all the conversations happened when he was on Reddit, talking to a stranger. It was a place that's called a Suicide Watch. And in that it's people that are in this bad place that want support, talk with other people. That was talking to a stranger and the conversation was taken in a private chat for 40 days, in over 120 pages of dialogue, and the guy was suicidal, my son was suicidal. And they're talking about all kinds of things. But the difference is that he was herding him like cattle into a certain direction, specifically about how to take his life by gun.  

My son did not have experiences with guns, and told him, the how-to, the what and where to point it. And all of that was all right there. And at that moment, I had four agencies that said, they can't do anything because there's no law. So, this person got away scot-free, but now we have a law that protects other families that there would be a consequence if an adult does talk to a minor about how to self-harm or suicide. It’s detrimental to your children if there is no protection of any time kind. I wish that I would have done something on there. But honestly, you can't protect your children forever. 

But if they're in your home, and you pay for that cell phone, that is your responsibility as a parent, and I can't tell you how many times parents do not want to take the phone away from their child. ‘They'll hate me, They won't talk to me. And I said that's not up for a vote. The vote is you pay for it. It's their privilege, it's your check that you write. And that is as simple as that. And you put on the protections. If they don't want to go through that, then give them a flip phone. I'm just being real with the families out there because we need to take back the control of keeping them protected and opening communication, but to keep them safe on these devices. A lot of these cell phone companies do have these protections also that they can put on those settings or pay for $5 or something like that a month.

Q: How do you balance independence as children get old and still being tuned in or tapped into their lives?

KM: A lot of parents say to me, ‘I feel like I'm invading their privacy.’ So some of these apps, Bark being one of them, just alert you on things that you would want to know that are safety issues, so they don't read all of the text messages.

They don't send you the long dissertation texts that they're sending to each other. They just alert you to really huge safety issues like predation and grooming and sexting and distress, an uptick and negative self-talk, off-the-cuff comments like, ‘My parents wouldn't care if I'm here anymore.’ That's an alert that would go to the parent’s phone.

PJ:  Had I had Bark, it would have been off the hook about the conversation that was happening on Reddit because they would talk about the caliber of the bullet, the type of gun, the type of angle. That something was wrong. It would have been nice to have something like that.

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Q: For families who might think a tragedy could happen to my family, what would you tell them?

JM: Let's prepare for it to not. Don't wait for the potential for it. Do your best to prepare for it to not happen. Because it's better to be prepared and not need that preparation than to not be prepared and have needed something after the fact.

PJ: I think that, as a mom, I really feel that suicide doesn't discriminate. Mental health does not discriminate against anyone. My son was a valedictorian had a lot of promise. The thing is, that I was one of those parents who say, 'Not my kid.' I say to parents, 'Don't be a member of my club.'  

The conversation starts now. And it doesn't have to be drawn out. But these kids want to build that trust, and they want to trust you with things. But if you're not paying attention, they are not going to come to you. And it took me by storm, it was not something that I expected. And I found out I'm a member of a club with other parents who lost a child, it is I promise you, it's not something that you want. But the conversation can start today and can be done privately. That's what I can say is just doing privately and listening more than speaking.

KM: As Paolla said, being part of this club that you don't want to be a part of as your kids are facing classmates, best friends, kids that are eating the Oreos out of your pantry, that are being awful to each other. And sometimes your kid is being awful. And so, these tools are there for you to be able to put golden guardrails in place and guide and navigate and mentor them through these years. 

So, it's not a punitive move, it's just a protective factor in their life that I'm giving you this device, and you have access to so many people that I know and I don't know. I’m going to put this protective barrier around you. And we're going to have conversations about these alerts that I get. So, I think some people might hear a Paolla speak, or another parent who lost a child and be like, never. Not my kid. But I can tell you, your child will and probably has been bullied. Your child will receive a nude photo. Your child will be asked to vape for smoke pot or worse. It's all happening to every child no matter who they are.

PJ: And the one thing I would say is that role-playing is something that I've done with my kids. And because the parents are saying not my kid, maybe not your kid, but your child knows someone that is going through something. And so, the role-playing, where it comes into play is just doing it in the living room and the parents are acting out what it's like to have these feelings. 

I want you to come to me. I want you to feel comfortable with that because it's important to protect your friend. Friendship comes second. Kids have it in reverse and they protect the friendship versus the person. And that's what happened in my situation with my son.  So maybe it's not your child, but the child is going to be in a circumstance where they're going to know someone or a really good friend that's hurting and hopefully, they have to trust to come to you as the parent, how do I get my friend some help? This is what they said and do that in confidence.

JM: There are some key times when it's a lot easier to have those conversations or I like to do a step process. I always have my kids understanding that you're moving to the next level. This semester just ended when January begins. You are not the same student that you were when you left school. And so now you're a second semester, whatever grade you're in. And this is what this might look like. So that gives me a chance to just insert whatever it looked like for me and talk about, you know, who I was as a 9th-grader of who I was as an 8th-grader. 

And then the end of the school year, this time of year, because we're in December, many kids are going to get devices for gifts, either a first-time device or a new device. That's another opportunity, that is a natural occurrence in their life, where you can then insert, here's a coaching tip for you, here's something that we're going to do. And when we do it step-by-step, then the kids can expect. This is what this looks like next time. And understanding mom might not be okay.  If you get a text from a friend who is asking you to do something that, you know, I wouldn't like, that you know that mom and dad would not be okay with. But because you're already prepared, and we're already having this conversation, you should be okay with telling me things like that.

 And they are understanding step-by-step that at different levels, they're going to experience different things. It should not be a secret that growing up comes with new experiences. And sometimes it feels like kids think, oh, this has never happened to anyone else before. Because it's happening to them for the first time. But a parent understands, ‘No, you're growing up, there's even more to go.’ And so, take that sheet back a little bit so that they can see like ‘No, this is normal for changes to happen during life and for new experiences to happen to anyway. And sometimes they're not fun. And sometimes they're just ugly.’ But with that, ‘I'm with you. I'm next to you. I'm along for the ride with you. And I won't be able to protect you from everything. This is why we need a plan in place. And step by step we'll learn together.’

PJ: And I think that parents, we tend to forget that we were teenagers or kids at one time. And kids think we have it all together. And it's a myth. I think there needs to be more transparency as a parent and the stages in which the children are going through. If they're getting in trouble – ‘I like to talk to you about something I went through. And I didn't tell anybody and I want to share this with you.’ Because we all make mistakes and having that bringing down that guard and having that transparency…that also builds that bond and that connection. Not that we're endorsing what happened. It's just that we do make mistakes. It's what are we going to do now? And what are the consequences? You know, in this situation, there are so many teaching moments but I feel that a lot of us parents are really guarded about our paths. And I think we need to start being real, and maybe not spilling the soup on everything, But what's appropriate for the conversation you're having right now.  If there's more transparency then we can relate more with our kids.

Q: For many families, their kids are at home more during the holidays. What are some ways parents or guardians can approach that opportunity to connect with their kids?

KM: I like taking an article that I read and showing them saying like, 'Is this true for you? Or is this true for your friend group?' There's a ton of articles right now about mental health. I had an opportunity the other day to talk to some moms at ASU. And they had heard reports of suicides at ASU. Whether or not that's true or not, their anxiety was at an all-time high. Their question was, ‘How do I talk to my kid about this?’ And I think you talk very openly. ‘I heard there were suicides. What do you know about suicides? Do you know anybody that struggled like that?’ I just think communication is key. And just really keeping that communication open.

JM: And don't forget to do it one on one. Because this is also a time of year where everyone's getting together. And you might have larger gatherings you might have more people coming in and out. So don't forget to do those things one-on-one. It's just it's so precious and it doesn't have to be a long time. It could be a quick walk to the mailbox. It could be a walk around the block, it could be in the car. It could be intentional to go sit down and have coffee together or tea or dessert or something, but just do the one-on-one time so that you get that direct connection interaction. There is a difference sometimes between the way that people like to interact, some people like face-to-face interaction. They want to see your facial expressions and they want to see what you look like. Some people don't want to see that at all. They prefer to be side-by-side. Don't forget about yourself, because that's important. Our reactions sometimes are going to generate what happens next in the conversation.

PJ: During the holidays, it's that's the one time we see a lot of family members once a year kind of a thing, and I would say to the parents is that, please just reconsider overbooking your time for those allowances of three or four days that you're with family. I know that some families or parents are under pressure. I'm going to say let's be intentional this year without our children. Extended family is secondary. Because right now we need to take advantage of the small piece of time that we have with the kids.

Q: What would you say to families where the parent or guardian might be working or aren’t able to be with their kids as often as they’d like?

JM: Leave notes. Anything you can do to communicate. I think we are starving from direct communication. Whatever you can do to directly communicate, that's my recommendation. I like to see the look on my kid's face when they've gotten a note from me.

Q: For parents or guardians who don’t see any signs of distress, what are some conversations they could start?

KM: Tackling the big subjects like bullying, drugs and alcohol, vaping, sexting. Approaching those subjects with you know, ‘I don't know a ton about this,’ and really sharing in that knowledge, perhaps researching together. Like, ‘I heard this crazy story about vaping. What do you know about vaping?’ You know, sometimes I'll even drive by like a vape shop and I'm like, ‘What do you guys know about vaping? All I know is it like harms your lungs.’  And then they're chatterboxes. 

Q: At what point should a parent maybe seek help?

KM: We tend to deny, especially if our child is in pain, we tend to dismiss and minimize because it's just easier. So, if your child is struggling and kind of in the lane of distress, we want to make sure we move them back to well-being as soon as possible. Because the slip from distress into crisis is really quick. And dialing a kid back from crisis to well-being is a heavy lift. If you have a radar going off, get in front of it as soon as possible. Most of the psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians are booking six to eight weeks out minimum. So getting in front of it is super, super important.

JM: You may see things that are really drastic changes like they're having a really hard time getting up in the morning. Or they're having a really hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep and they're eating maybe a lot. Or they're not eating at all. Really drastic changes. When you see that drastic change, that definitely could be a sign that we'll maybe need to have a conversation. And then maybe we can get someone to help us out. And who that is. It could vary. But having that conversation to find out what is changing, gives you an idea of what then should happen next, who then should be brought in.

PJ: We don't necessarily have to wait until there is a problem. I find that if the kids are in that transition from sixth grade going to junior high, that's a good opportunity to do a check-in and get them acquainted with a counselor.  And if they're able to start that relationship with the therapist, it might be once every three years that they need to see one. But the thing is, they're not going to be scared to talk about it. So, there's the junior high to high school, there's going to be a huge transition in those two points… So, it's getting ahead of it. You know, because whether the kid knows that they're going through anxiety or depression, the counselor can help facilitate and ask those questions to be able to get that conversation going. I think that parents sometimes take offense when the child doesn't want to come to talk to them. It's better if the child is talking to a trusted adult than talking to a stranger on the internet or talking to their peers because the peers are not equipped to deal with real-life circumstances. And they need these tools now.

KM: We have to de-stigmatize help-seeking, which means adults have to model for them. Like, it's okay not to be okay. And it's okay to go talk to a counselor. We've never seen a generation that's so active civically and they have social media and they want a voice at the table. What they're doing is coming to us saying, ‘I'm anxious, I'm depressed.’ So they're coming in droves. And schools and parents are saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, we didn't think you needed this much help. We don't have the resources.’ So, we've kind of sent a double mixed message that like it's okay not to be okay. Come to us. And when they come to us we’re like, ‘Whoa, we don't have enough help.’ So that is part of this whole system of having an emotional blueprint of what to do. Like, in kindergarten, we teach them how to stop, drop and roll. These children need to know how do you stop, drop and roll out of your emotional pain? What does that blueprint look like?

PJ: It's been 31 months now that my son's been gone, and we created the Laloboy Foundation and we give free counseling stipends for families that are in financial need. What we basically do is pay up to three counseling stipends at $300. So, if a counseling hourly rate is $125, that's scary for a lot of families.  

The first thing that goes off the budget is counseling because they can't afford it. Well, we're able to help with that. And we also have connections with other groups that have other resources that can also help outside of counseling. But stop talking to your neighbor, or talking to other people. You do what you feel is best. You're the parent. And if you feel that there is a need for your child, make the phone call.

JM: After having my fourth child, I realized that no one was monitoring Youth Mental Health regularly. You can go and get wellness visits annually. And when you have a young infant, you will get regular checks even more scheduled and so I started looking into well, ‘How do I monitor my kid's mental health in a way that there's a tool that would really show me what is happening here?’ And there are tools out there. I created this initiative called Neckup Checkup. And really what it is, is just go and get a tool, find a tool that will help you to monitor your kids’ mental health. You can take that survey monthly, you can take it when you see that something has happened. It's like a thermometer. 

 And that's what mental health checks are. They give you an accurate reading of what the mental health temperature is. And so do that. Do that regularly and keep track of it. And at the least, you have more information to pass on to the next professional that will just help them understand what's been going on over the last year or two or a couple of months or weeks.

Q: What’s is a go-to prompt to start a conversation with your teen?

KM: My standard is ’How can I help?’

JM: My favorite openers? ‘What's been your favorite thing? And your least favorite thing?’ You can say over the last week or month or the school year. That's my favorite.

PJ: I would say that dinner table conversations, whether it's Christmas time right now, or just in general is just one question and then getting everybody's response on that. It's just those are icebreakers.

Q: How do you finish one of these tough conversations?

KM: I think for me, it's about ‘Thanks so much for trusting me with this. I know this was hard and I'll be the bridge. I may not have all the answers, but I'm here.’…With my four daughters, sometimes they just want to vent. They don't want me to offer strategies. My goal is to get them to come up with their own strategies. So, sometimes I'll say, ‘Is this just a listening moment? Or do you want to strategize?’ And most of the time, 90% of the time, ‘I just need you to listen.’ So sometimes as parents, we try to fix it because we want everything to be better. But that's the heavy lifting that they need to do for themselves.

JM: ‘Do you want me to say something here now to give you a response? Or would you like me to just continue to listen?’ And then when we're at a point where there's a break or whatever answer I get, then ‘Would you like to get something to eat?’

PJ: Definitely agree with the two of them. I think getting that permission to share something, empowers them that they do have control at that moment that they are sharing. And I think that I'm going to walk this with you. I'm going to walk this with you. I'm glad that you shared that. That was I don't know how hard that was. But I feel that it was hard. And just validating because we're not validating our kids. It's not making our kid's win be. It's not, and I think that's the wrong message. So a lot of people believe it's, it's just, we're just saying we're hearing them, and we're with them, and we'll find solutions together. That's what they need.


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