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In the last section, we discussed four barriers to communication between adolescents and parents that may compound a teen’s suicidal crisis. These four barriers are labeling, mixed messages, over or underreacting, and nonverbal messages.
In this section, we will discuss four parenting skills for setting limits that can help a teen in a suicidal crisis. These four skills are develop clear rules, eliminate vagueness, be direct, and develop a joint language.
The next three sections will focus on specific parenting skills that the therapist can introduce to the parents of a teen in a suicidal crisis. These techniques may help stabilize the teen’s home environment and increase the social support resources available to the teen. By setting limits for the teen in a suicidal crisis, the parent conveys a message that someone cares enough to watch out for them. While the teen may at first resent the presence of limits, limits provide a sense of security that is invaluable to the teen in crisis.
4 Parenting Skills for Setting Limits
♦ Skill #1 - Develop Clear Rules
♦ Skill #2 - Eliminate Vagueness
I recommend to parents that they state clearly, "I don’t know" followed by an expression of feelings and a statement that the parent will think about the issue for a specific amount of time. For example, Ryan, 17, had recently displayed self-destructive behavior such as alcohol use and burning himself with cigarettes. Although Ryan was making progress in therapy, his father Grady remained concerned about his son’s risk of suicide.
When Ryan requested to stay overnight at a friend’s house, Grady was uneasy. Grady stated to Ryan, "I don’t know if I want you to stay overnight at Brian’s house, because I don’t know Brian’s family well and I worry what would happen if you needed help in the middle of the night. Let me talk it over with your mother, and I’ll let you know this afternoon so that you can make plans one way or another."
♦ Skill #3 - Be Direct
This indirect request also leaves Amy the option of saying "not now," since she probably does not in fact want to clean her room. By making a statement instead of asking a question, the parent may be able to lessen resistance. In the case of a teenager in a suicidal crisis, a parent may want the teen to seek help from a therapist or crisis counselor. By asking the teenager, "Would you like to make an appointment to see a therapist?" the parent’s message is not clear, and there is implied permission for the teenager to refuse help.
By stating directly, "We’re going to make an appointment for you to see a therapist," the teen may still raise objections, but her or his opportunities for manipulation are lessened.
♦ Skill #4 - Developing a Joint Language Technique
For example, Grady and his son Ryan agreed that the phrase "I draw the line" meant, "That’s it, I have had enough, no more pushing the limits." Both Grady and Ryan agreed that if one of them used the phrase "I draw the line," the other would back off and reassess his or her behavior. Grady and Ryan also agreed that if Ryan stated, "Up up and away," Grady would stop asking so many questions, because the phrase would signify in a nonconfrontational way that Ryan was feeling like he was being interrogated.
However, as part of the develop a joint language technique, Grady and Ryan also agreed that if one of them used a conversation-ending pet expression, they would give each other space for one hour, and then meet to reassess the conversation. Think of your Grady and Ryan. Would the develop a joint language technique help your Grady set limits, while improving communication patterns within the family?
In this section, we have discussed four parenting skills for setting limits that can help a teen in a suicidal crisis. These four skills are develop clear rules, eliminate vagueness, be direct, and develop a joint language.
In the next section, we will discuss four techniques available to parents to help foster independence in a teen undergoing a depressive or suicidal crisis. These four techniques are providing choices, problem solving, listening techniques, and active interest.