What Parents Can Do to Help Their Teens Break the Cycle of Teen Suicide


If you’re a parent of a teenager, you may wonder how this alien invaded your home. You suddenly have no idea who this “new” child is. Your once responsive, communicative son or daughter now answers your questions in monosyllables, if he/she answers at all. Your teen hangs out in the sanctuary—the bedroom (often with door closed)—and spends an inordinate amount of time texting, posting, and tweeting. Overnight, your teen has no interest in sharing feelings and, for that matter, little else.

What’s going on? Hormones? Rock music? Boredom? Drugs? Depression? Thoughts of suicide?


For many teens, it is the still-developing brain that is the root cause. Adolescence is the “most tumultuous time” for the brain since birth. The area right behind the forehead, called the frontal cortex, thickens and continues developing. This is the thinking, planning, strategizing part of the brain, and it is still not “on board.” Teens don’t often make the responsible decisions—as if you don’t already know that.

And that is the rub: how do you know whether your teen’s behavior is normal and will get better in a year or two (Seems like a lifetime, right?) or whether there are serious problems that need to be addressed?

Here are some suggestions:
1. Be aware of the warning signs of depression and/or anxiety disorder. Depression is on the rise, particularly among teen girls. Between 2004 and 2015, six percent of boys and as high as 15 to 16 percent of girls were depressed. If any of the following signs persist for more than two weeks, your teen may need professional help—if, for no other reason, than to talk with another adult.
• Desire to be “perfect”
• Need for constant approval and reassurance
• Easily fatigued
• Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
• Irritability
• Problems with sleep
• Changes in eating habits
• Loss of interest in friends and other activities

It’s important to understand that, while many people who think about suicide are depressed, being depressed is just one of many causes of suicide. THERE IS NEVER ONE REASON WHY SOMEONE TAKES HIS LIFE.

2. Distinguish between myth and fact about teen suicide.
MYTH: When teens (and adults) talk about taking their own lives, they are just looking for attention. Ignoring them is the best thing you can do.
FACT: Most people who take their own lives do talk about it. Eighty percent of adolescent suicides make open threats.
MYTH: Once your teen decides to take his/her own life, there is nothing you can do.
FACT: Not true. On the contrary, suicidal teens are often ambivalent about living or dying. It is not your responsibility (or capability) to save your teen. But you can listen, watch for warning signs, and consult with a health professional.
MYTH: Once your son or daughter tries to kill himself/herself, the pain and shame will keep him/her from trying again.
FACT: Just the opposite is true. Within the first three months to a year following a suicide attempt, teens (adults) are at the highest risk of a second attempt.
MYTH: Once your child’s depression appears to have lifted, she is out of danger.
FACT: Depression can be most dangerous when it appears to be lifting. When someone feels better, they may the energy and ability to make a plan and carry through.
MYTH: Talking about suicide will give ideas to a teen.
FACT: Another common mistake. You don’t give someone thoughts of suicide. The thoughts are already there. Talking with a teen openly and honestly—without judgment or blame—can help, not hurt. Again, it’s not your job to save your teen but to show that you care and, when necessary, seek professional help.
3. Practice active listening—a technique that shows you care and understand (or try to understand) what your teen is feeling. Don’t lecture or try to solve your teen’s problems. Instead, use phrases like “If I hear you correctly, you ______________________. Mirror what is being said. If you reflect accurately, your teen may nod in agreement or want to talk further. If not, give it a second try. Watch your body language. Establish direct eye contact. Don’t be distracted. These nonverbal behaviors help show that you care.
4. Understand that is never your job to save your child. But it is your job to break the code of silence, even if you are sworn to secrecy. Better to have an angry teen than no teen at all.

Adolescence is a confusing time for parents and teens. But there are many things you can do to help your son or daughter break the cycle of teen suicide.

THE NEW BOOK TOUR (For Us Mid-List Authors)


The Not-Quite End of the Book Tour

In 2015, author Noah Charney wrote a piece for The Atlantic in which he declared the author book tour gasping for air but not quite a relic of the past.


In recent years, and especially since the recession of 2008, when author advances shrunk and publishing had to tighten its collective belt, one of the first things to go were book tours (not to mention the all-but-extinct beast called the “book release party”).
Charney was one of the “lucky” authors who still got to be sent on tour by his publisher.
But in this new, more austere era, publishers only regularly pay to send authors who are compelling public speakers, authors with large established audiences who are guaranteed to sell well and therefore cover expenses (the James Pattersons, Gary Shteyngarts, J.K. Rowlings, and so on), or authors with a high profile that extends beyond books (such as actors, athletes, comedians). Publishers might send the odd debut writer, in hopes of more media coverage, but it’s no longer a given.

Well, I, along with my fellow mid-list authors, don’t fall into the first, second or third category.  (Back in the day—I’m talking the late 1980s—I did do a book tour to promote the 1st edition of Dead Serious, a book for teens about teen suicide.  But I’d hired a publicist who picked up where the 20-something in-house publicists left off.  “Left off” is putting a positive spin on the work they did—or did not do.  These new college graduates were overwhelmed, asked to juggle a ton of books.  While they tackled their job with youthful enthusiasm, they didn’t know what the heck they were doing; hence, the necessity of paying for one’s own publicist.)

This time around, my enthusiasm was tempered by the sad reality that, to hire a media specialist who’d focus primarily on a book tour, was both too expensive and a shot in the dark.  Even though the timing for a 2nd edition of Dead Serious couldn’t have been “better,” I knew that without an M.D. or PhD. behind my name, I didn’t stand a chance of  making a media splash.  (Now if my mother were still alive, she’d probably have coughed up the necessary funds, convinced that surely the sister of her dead son had a lot to say and a big audience that would listen.)

So, what’s a mid-list author to do?  Give up?  Nope.  Not me.  I may be a realist but I’m not a quitter.

I searched the Internet, talked to other authors.  The solution: one of the unique online programs that, for a price far, far below what it costs to hire a publicist, arranged a virtual book tour:  “It’s not just a blog tour. It’s a social media experience.”


Hmm . .  . I don’t know about the “social media experience” deal, but over the course of a month, I guest blogged, had my book reviewed and/or had feature interviews on 16 book/author blogs.  In truth, Pump Your Book had the blog contacts and did the leg work.  I, on the other hand, spent a chunk of time writing unique guest blogs and answering interview questions.

When I started the “tour”, the paperback version of Dead Serious ranked #2 on the Amazon  Books > Teens > Social Issues > Suicide key word string.  The Kindle version ranked #6.

For a day or two during the “tour,” the book reached #1 and never ranked below #6 again.  Today, almost two months since publication, the book stands tall at #2.  (In truth, the  raking can go up based on the sale of a single book.)

So, was the “tour” a success?  I’d have to answer “yes.”  It sustained interest when many books lose their readership after the blush of initial success.

Now, the trick is to figure out how to keep those cards and letters coming.  Stay tuned.


I spent a year talking to teens (and teachers and experts, too) about their lives—what makes them tick, the stresses they face, their “take” on the world in which they live.

All of this talk as I revised and updated Dead Serious: Breaking The Cycle of Teen Suicide. 

Since the publication of the book in late January, I’ve done a fair amount of guest blogging, media interviews in both print and radio, and a lot of posting and tweeting.  I worked with a PR group that charged too much money for what they accomplished.  And I’m currently working with NewShelves, a marketing group that specializes in marketing to libraries and bookstores.


Oh, and PumpYourBook.com set up a virtual blog tour.


In an interview posted on She Writes, I was asked what I learned about teens during the research for Dead Serious.  The question caught me by surprise for a brief moment.  It shouldn’t have.



  • Today’s teens live in what some have dubbed “The Age of Anxiety.”  They face stressors that their parents and many young adults didn’t face: extreme academic pressure, social media, bullying from which there is no safe place to hide, pressure to grow up fast (more significantly for girls) and magically be as emotionally mature as the way they look. 1 out of 5 teens have severe problems with self-esteem, feelings of failure, alienation, loneliness, lack of confidence, and thoughts of suicide. (CDC)
  • I learned about the additional obstacles LGBTQ teens face.  On top of all the normal challenges of adolescence, gay teens may be forced to deal with physical and emotional abuse, rejection by family, increased drug and alcohol use, homelessness, unwanted outing and, yes, a suicide attempt rate 4 times that of “straight” teens.
  • I learned how teens can help other teens by listening, showing that they care about a friend’s problems.  Most importantly, teens should be encouraged to seek a trusted adult who can help connect a troubled friend to a trained professional.
  • I learned how important and effective it can be for schools to adopt proven suicide prevention programs.  The most successful work from the ground up with students paving the way.  These programs train peer mentors who are “on the job” for at least a year.
  • I learned how resilient today’s teens can be.  With the support of parents, teachers, therapists (sometimes medication) and friends, they have the inner goods to pull back from the brink and understand that things do get better.  It’s just a matter of time.