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I am Jennie of J.B. Tols.I am an interior designer, photographer, blogger, advocate, adventurer, wife and mother

November 27, 2020


FOREWORD

After a stepchild has completed suicide is no time to reflect on fault or blame, pointing fingers this way and that; however, for the sake of writing a blog post that may help someone else, I am going to share about a lot of my own personal experiences here. It is not my intention to hurt anyone with what I have written.


INTRODUCTION

I had known my current stepchildren most of their lives. We attended church together. I was married to my ex-husband and was step-parenting his three children, as well as parenting my five sons; we were a family of ten people: two parents, two daughters and six sons. My current husband was still married to his ex-wife and they were parenting their three children that they had together: two daughters and a son.

We were only about a years difference between our divorces, but I stayed single for three years following my divorce to create some stability in the lives of my kids before throwing anything new into their already confusing lives.

When my current husband and I started to date, I was so excited about bringing my three current stepchildren into my life. I had “lost” my two stepdaughters and stepson through a very high conflict divorce and I missed them so much. So, I over-spiritualized my new relationship and thought God had replaced all that I had lost by bringing exactly two stepdaughters and one stepson into my life with this new marriage.

That may sound silly to most, but I very dearly loved my previous stepchildren. They were so good to me and were no different, in my heart, as my birth children; I mourned the loss of those relationships pretty bad.

The most important take away from all of that is this: I was very excited to be welcoming my new stepchildren into my home (My husband and his children moved into my house); Not to replace my other stepchildren, but for a second chance at a life that I loved, I suppose.

Which, I surmise is one reason why I was so alert to the various warning signs that I experienced once around my stepchildren, full time. For one, I was very use to having a lot of children in the home. We had always been a large family. So, all of the children understood the need to help pull their own weight. Our children had chores and expectations of cleanliness and responsibilities in the home and in school. I was thrust into a situation where there was no order–at all–and the childrens emotions dictated the environment.

And, there were glaring red flags everywhere.

I tried to get my stepson help, but my husband felt that I just had too high of expectations for his children and his ex-wife and her mother (my husbands ex-mother-in-law [who had way too much influence in my home, I might add]) felt that I was just picking on my stepchildren. It made me so angry with them all. I had been a stepmom longer than I had been a biological mom; and I didn’t scrutinize between birth and stepchildren. I only cared that there were some major things that worried me and I was genuinely trying to help.


10 THINGS TO LOOK FOR

and practical things that I witnessed

  1. EMOTIONAL FRAGILITY (VERSUS RESILIENCY):
    1. Definition: Feeling overwhelmed by simple problems, disagreements, or any situation that doesn’t go like they’d hoped. Inability to deal with frustration. Difficulty taking control of their own life. Feeling like everything is too much for them. Constant problems in their social life
      1. It should be of concern if you have a child that does what I call “coming completely undone” over doing chores–especially small tasks (ie: filling the dishwasher). It is normal for children to test authority to an extent, but it is not normal for a child to become so overwhelmed by typical responsibilities that they can not moderate their emotions and responses. If chores are common expectations, a child should not become stressed to the point of crying when required to fulfill his or her family duties. If this “coming undone” is consistent and/or used as a means to get out of the responsibility, you have a red flag popping up. In the very least, your child should be communicated with about the issue or, eventually, taken to a professional to communicate with about how they are feeling.
      2. If your child has been allowed to continue with this routine into junior high or high school with teachers or employers, this is a very dangerous scenario as this child has not been taught how to overcome challenges and take responsibility for their space in life. When things get overwhelming, their first response is to get emotional and bail. Bailing could, eventually, translate to attempting suicide.
  2. ISOLATION:
    1. Definition: a lack of social connections. Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated.
      1. My stepson, in particular, was very isolated at his school, in elementary and junior high. I was a substitute teacher one year, during a work transition, and was able to witness how he would disengage with his fellow classmates. I had sent my husband a photo through text stating that I was very worried about his son. It was an image of all of the kids sitting on the floor, watching a movie, and my stepson had placed himself at the back of the room all by himself. It very much alarmed me, but the warning was disregarded by everyone.
  3. REBELLION/ANGER/RAGE/SADISM:
    1. Definition: violent, uncontrollable angerIt is said that those “….who have impulsive aggression are more likely to commit suicide themselves, Campo [Doctor from the article] said“. (taken from a Live Science article which can be viewed here)
      1. If I child directly defies the adults in their lives, as a habit, this should be of immediate concern. And, if this behavior is not addressed by the adults in the child’s life, this should be of even greater concern…and alarming.
      2. If you have a child from a very young age using physical violence as a way of addressing situations that they, otherwise, do not know how to cope with, you have an serious issue to address.
      3. My stepson was very quiet and shy, but he had an anger just under the surface and anyone that challenged him, he had a deep hate for them. And, he hated me! After his death, it was said that “he respected those who deserved his respect“. Personally, I think it is very dangerous stance to take; it teaches them an entitlement; a “me first” mentality. You want your child to have great empathy and consideration for other’s feelings. You want your child to ask questions like: How would my suicide effect others?
  4. DEPRESSION:
    1. Definition: Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems
      1. I think that depression is a pretty universally understood disorder. We experienced this with a lot of bouts of crying and statements of “I am being picked on” or “So and so is trying to make me feel bad about myself” when trying to get a child to bathe or turn in their homework.
      2. Another warning sign is spending an inordinate time in bed or time on social media.
      3. If you have a family member who deals with this condition, you may be so normalized to this behavior that you do not realize that it is abnormal, but it is NOT normal for a person to be this sad and/or negative on a consistent basis.
  5. POOR SELF-ESTEEM:
    1. Definition: Self-esteem is how one views themselves. So, it having poor self-esteem would be to think very low of oneself.
      1. A person verbalizing that they are a horrible person, that they do not have worth/value or something similar should be a very alarming sign. Someone who cannot see their value will imagine that a life without them in it would be better off; thus, leading to suicide.
      2. My stepson would tell people that he was a horrible person. He did not believe that he had any value. Luckily, this was alarming to his parents and they would tell him otherwise; but, I have to think: would he have learned self-value if he had been required to complete tasks that he had actually cried his way out of…if he had been required to complete them and then been given a lot of praise, afterwards, would that have corrected some of this self-hate? Could some of his self-hate stem from being allowed to quit team sports mid-season, not turn in homework and not maintain decent grades, be allowed to cry his way out of chores. Maybe, if he had been required to stick things out—even if it was hard—would he have been able to overcome the thoughts of self doubt when they visited and overcome the longing to quit?
  6. APATHY:
    1. Definition: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.
      1. From a very young age, my stepchildren were failing school. I tried to help all of them raise their grades, but I had a lot of difficulty with my stepson, in particular, even turning in his work. Convincing them of the importance of self-respect, applying themselves, and quality work just did not equate. I even sat with them all around the dining room table and had, what I thought to be a very inspiring talk, about believing in oneself and wanting to do our very best work…on and on…only to be disciplined later for “making them feel bad about themselves”! That is about that time that I started to give up and relinquish any responsibility in helping the kids; I just could not handle the backlash that I was getting from the adults in their lives.
      2. Another sign of apathy is the lack of personal hygiene. Young children do not care about bathing or brushing their teeth–that’s why they have parents; but, by about eighth grade and, for sure, by high school, young people should be able to keep themselves clean. If not, I consider this an area of great alarm and concern. This was a major problem in our home. This was one of the BIG red flags. And, while this one was visible, right there on the exterior, I could not get any adult support. I would hear every excuse for why I was being unrealistic to expect them to be clean. I was even accused of being “too vain and materialistic”. Not maintaining a standard of personal hygiene is creating a situation where kids at school are repelled by the child and/or talking about them and calling them names. That scenario enflames and exacerbates all of the other symptoms around suicide warning signs! You should not be getting calls from your child’s employer asking that you make your child bathe before coming back to work.
      3. Does your child or loved one have any hobbies or interests unique to them? If your person is void of any interest, that is certainly a concern that I would urge you to keep an eye on.
  7. VERBAL THREATS OF KILLING ONESELF:
    1. Clearly this needs no definition. It is not okay to threaten to physically harm oneself or another person. Even if the person swears that it is a joke, keep a close eye and start addressing the subject of suicide with the person. Luckily, I never witnessed any talk of suicide; however, I was not around my stepson much during his high school years.
  8. MENTAL ILLNESS:
    1. Definition: A wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior.
      1. This could encompass a long list of mental illnesses. Ones of especially dire concern are those people with:
        1. Bipolar Disorder
        2. Clinical Depression
        3. Anxiety
        4. and more
      2. The vast majority of people who do kill themselves have a mental illness. More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a mental disorder, either depression, bipolar disorder or some other diagnosis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). [Suicide: Red Flags and Warning Signs]
      3. My stepson had depression, ADHD and anxiety. I tried to have him tested more than one time early on and was, literally, fought and denied the chance to have it done. My understanding is that, once he was in high school, that he was in the care of a doctor and diagnosed.

IS THERE ANY WAY OF KNOWING THAT A CHILD MAY ATTEMPT SUICIDE?

Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

This was taken from this website: Jason Foundation


IMMEDIATE WARNING SIGNS

Immediate warning signs that someone may attempt suicide are:

  1. Feelings of hopelessness or desperation
  2. Insomnia
  3. Panic attacks
  4. Social isolation
  5. Irritability
  6. Rage
  7. Feelings of being a burden

Warning signs from the article at website: LiveScience


COULD A PARENT BE BLAMED?

The hanging of Daniel Scruggs, a twelve year old child, who completed suicide in 2002, represents a case in which the mother was found guilty of emotional neglect of her child that resulted in the child’s suicide. The ruling was eventually overturned, but it should make us all aware of our duties to one another and the effects that our behavior–good or bad–can have on the mental state of those in our care.

It was stated: “Signs of Daniel’s emotional problems were evidenced in numerous ways: he refused to shower, he would not attend school, he stayed in bed all day, he had no friends, he was irritable and argumentative with his peers, and he had a poor academic performance. Certain adolescent behaviors are warning signs of emotional problems. When parents do not address the abnormal actions of their child, they fail to fulfill their parental duties. Perhaps if Judith Scruggs fully acknowledged the extent to which her son was suffering psychologically, Daniel would still be alive today.”

(I will cite this reference (A court document), but I am having trouble relocating where I found it. I will replace this with a website once it is located)

COULD A FRIEND OR LOVE INTEREST BE BLAMED?

Absolutely!

In the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, Carter had talked, extensively, with her boyfriend about attempting suicide. Roy ended up completing suicide at the age of 18 years old. After investigation, she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Another case, Inyoung You, A 21 year old Korean woman was charged in the suicide of her 22 year old boyfriend Alexander Urtula based on the findings that she was very verbally abusive to him. You would tell Urtula that he would be better of dead, often and repeatedly…until, he eventually completed suicide.

STATS

For middle and high school age youth (ages 12-18), suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death.

For college age youth (ages 18-22), suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death.

Over-all, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for our youth ages 10-24.

2018 CDC WISQARS found at www.cdc.gov


The following is taken, word-for-word from the following article found at psychologybenefits.org

“Studies show that 4 out of 5 teen suicide attempts are preceded by clear warning signs, so make sure to know them. A warning sign does not mean your child will attempt suicide, but do not ignore warning signs. Respond to your child immediately, thoughtfully and with loving concern. Don’t dismiss a threat as a cry for attention!

  • Changes in personality: sadness, withdrawal, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, indecision
  • Changes in behavior: deterioration in social relationships and school and/or work performance, reduced involvement in positive activities
  • Sleep disturbance: insomnia, oversleeping; nightmares
  • Changes in eating Habits: loss of appetite, weight loss, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control: erratic behavior, harming self or others “

POSITIVE ACTION TO TAKE

You are not powerless; you can guard your teen against the possibility of suicide.

  • Remove the obvious things that a child or loved one could use to attempt suicide, such as: medicine, alcohol, knives, guns, or even getting into a car during the throes of an episode.
  • Get your child or loved one professional care and express the importance of taking their medication, if prescribed, and attending all doctors appointments.
  • Monitor the peer influence on your child or loved one; Are they interacting with people who might support or promote self harm. Monitor their social media and the amount of screen time that they engage in.
  • Address your concerns with other adults in your child or loved ones life
  • Interact with your teen positively using words and phrases that help promote a healthy self image and encourages hope.
  • Increase your child or loved ones involvement in positive activities that involve creating a positive self image and interaction with others that you respect
  • Communicate regularly with your teen’s teachers to ensure safety at school
  • Talk openly about suicide and the negative consequences of completing suicide
  • Require that your child completes tasks, even if they feel overwhelmed by them, by staying with them and guiding them through the challenge.
    • An example: I have a son who has diagnosed anxiety. And, it can be paralyzing. (You cannot see what he is feeling on the outside, but because of him communicating with me, I now understand it.) When he got his license, I knew that there was one intersection in our town that was going to be a very high anxiety situation for him. You come over a hill and are nose down, facing into a busy highway with no stop light. So, we were out driving together and I made him turn onto that road. Once we started to go over the hill, he realized where I had taken him…and he was mad! I mean MAD! But, he completed the task! It wasn’t easy…nor was it fun, though. But, he learned how to moderate his breathing and emotions and he overcame. And, then I poured out the praise so that he knew how well that he did!
  • Teach Independence.
    • Esther Wojcicki, mother of two female CEO’s and one female Doctor discusses her keys to raising healthy people in an article for Time magazine in the edition, How to Raise Successful Children. On the topic of independence, she had this to say:

Independence relies upon a strong foundation of trust and respect. Children who learn self-control and responsibility early in life are much better equipped to face the challenges of adulthood, and also have the skills to innovate and think creatively. Truly independent kids are capable of coping with adversity, setbacks and boredom, all unavoidable aspects of life. They feel in control even when things around them are in chaos.

Esther Wojcicki

IN CONCLUSION

Ultimately, attempted nor completed suicide is anything that I would wish on anyone. This happened to my stepson, with whom I had a very rocky relationship; however, I have watched the parents endure the very worst pain that any parent should have to endure. Please take all of the information provided with the very best heart and as a preventative tool. I pray health over you and your loved ones and pray that you have Hope as you walk through lifes always present challenges.

If you have questions or would like to carry the conversation further, please add a comment in the comment section below.

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