Are you scared sick that your bullied child just might attempt suicide?

Every so often there’s a major news break of a teenager or adolescent who committed suicide because they were being bullied. Did their parents see this coming? If so, why couldn’t they have prevented the suicide? CAN parents prevent suicide in their bullied teen or child?

“Take the bullying seriously,” says Rashmi Shetgiri, MD, MSHS, medical director at Pediatric Primary Care Clinic in Los Angeles whose research interests include bullying and youth violence prevention.

Though in some cases of teen suicides, the parents had been desperately trying to prevent disaster, there are other cases in which the parents blew off the bullying as a “kids will be kids” part of growing up.

“Talk with the child about his/her bullying experience and feelings about what has happened,” urges Dr. Shetgiri. Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of suicide!

Another thing parents can do to help prevent suicide in a bullied child is to speak to their doctor or school officials to obtain mental health services, says Dr. Shetgiri.

“Work with the school or location where the child is being bullied to end the bullying, or remove the child from that school/location.”

Though it’s happened that a bullied teen/adolescent has committed suicide despite the parents’ efforts with school officials and mental health counselors, there’s something I’ve noticed throughout the years that seems to be a common thread in these tragic stories, and it’s this:

There’s no mention that the victim had excelled in any sport, or that the victim was even involved in a sport.

Athletic activities, especially martial arts, build self-esteem and are empowering, giving kids a sense of belonging.

Sports don’t always have to be limited to football, basketball or baseball. Even individual sports such as rock-wall climbing and bowling can build self-value.

And being on a team sport can make self-worth soar  —  the anticipated excitement of the next game or meet may be the only thing that keeps a bullied youth from taking their life.

On the field or court, they’re in control and thrive. Practice and workouts are sanctuaries. There’s just something magical about physical endeavors.

Dr. Shetgiri says, “Enroll the child in an activity that can help build confidence and self-esteem, and which the child enjoys and feels he/she is good at.”

If your son or daughter doesn’t care for more traditional or common sports such as football, baseball, wrestling, track and field, basketball, volleyball and soccer  —  don’t give up!

Ever consider bringing your suicidal bullied child to a climbing gym? I’m an experienced rock-wall climber. I’ve been to competitions. There are divisions for ALL levels!

Imagine the thrill of struggling with a climbing route, but finally figuring out how to get to the top.

Trust me, climbing walls can give a depressed person a surge of excitement. “I got to the top!” is the reigning thought process in this sport.

This can carry over to life in general: working your way to the goal, learning how to maneuver and navigate life’s curveballs  —  a climbing route is a metaphor for growing up!

Also explore creative pursuits. Many depressed teens have been saved by theatre work and musical performance.

“Have a time during the day (such as a family dinner time) to talk about the child’s day and how things are going at school and with friends,” says Dr. Shetgiri. “Periodically check in with the school to monitor how the child is doing.”

Be Specific, Not General

Does your child grunt or mutter “fine” when you ask, “How was school today?” Next time, ask, out of the blue when your seemingly suicidal bullied child comes home for the day, “Did anyone at school say anything to you that really upset you?”

Then listen. This pinpointed tactic is amazingly effective at getting kids to open up (it works on adults, too!).

Dr. Shetgiri is particularly interested in prevention of violence among Latino youth, the implementation of primary-care-based bullying and violence prevention strategies, and health outcomes for children exposed to violence and abuse.