The penultimate rule of raising children is to listen. Alvaro Mejia should know. He didn't listen and almost lost his son to suicide.
The bond between parents and children is nurtured at the kitchen table through open dialogue and understanding. Although active listening can be challenging, it remains the best parental decision compared to the heartbreaking alternative.
Broken bonds lead to broken hearts. As a father, Mejia thought that if only children came with a user manual, he could "fix" his son. But Mejia was stubborn, and stubborn people don't listen. And children don't come with instruction manuals.
According to the Teenage Suicide Facts, suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals between 15 and 24. A statistic that is both heartbreaking and unnecessary.
Mejia's son and he would sit at the kitchen table to share adventures and swap stories. But when his son announced he was gay, Mejia rejected him and asked him to move out. When a doctor called to tell Mejia of his son's attempted suicide, he knew he had to change. "I broke our father-son bond because I didn't want to listen," Mejia says as he glances out the window of his home.
Since then, Mejia says he's learned a few steps stubborn parents can take to avoid breaking the parent-child relationship and reduce the risk of teenage self-harm:
It may be cliche, but Mejia says the first step is to "know thyself. It's not easy, but listening begins with your silence. Stubborn parents can start by listening to understand, not to react. Then repeat to your child what you believe they said in your own words. This will improve communication within the family. It's a small step with large benefits."
Next, parents should also take a moment to recognize that there's room for self-improvement. While children may not come with a user's manual, educational resources, such as parenting books or workshops, can provide insights and knowledge.
And lastly, and most importantly, Mejia says to reread the first step. "Listen to what your children tell you. It might just save their life."
September 10, 2023 is World Suicide Prevention Day. The World Health Organization's "Creating Hope Through Action" campaign reminds people that big and small gestures of understanding can provide hope to those who may feel that the only alternative to life is self-harm.
In all, Mejia's son tried to commit suicide three times. It wasn't until Mejia set aside his stubbornness and began to listen to understand that Mejia regained a connection with his son. "The heartbreak that comes from teenage suicide is unnecessary."
Today, Mejia is committed to preventing teenaged suicide because he knows that the parent-child relationship starts at the kitchen table. Listening isn't always easy, but it's better than the heartbreaking loss of young lives.