Teenagers who feel their parents rarely express interest in their emotional well-being are far more likely to consider suicide than youths who say their parents are involved and proud of them, US researchers said Tuesday.
The findings by the University of Cincinnati come as the suicide rate among teenagers rises in the United States, adding to concern among parents, educators and health experts.
In the past month alone, a 10-year-old girl in Colorado and a 13-year-old in California have hung themselves. Their parents say bullying at school contributed to the girls’ deaths.
“Parents ask us all the time: ‘What can we do?’,” said Keith King, who coordinates the University of Cincinnati’s health promotion and education doctoral program.
“Kids need to know that someone’s got their back, and unfortunately, many of them do not. That’s a major problem.”
King and his colleague, Rebecca Vidourek, based their findings on a 2012 national survey of people 12 and older that revealed a significant link between parental behaviours and thoughts of suicide among adolescents.
The age group most affected by parenting behaviours were 12- and 13-year-olds.
Children in this age group who said their parents rarely or never told them they were proud of them were nearly five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, said the researchers.
They were also nearly seven times more likely to formulate a suicide plan, and about seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
An unusually high risk of suicide was also seen in 12- and 13-year-olds whose parents rarely or never told them they did a good job or helped them with their homework.
Teenagers aged 16 and 17 whose parents rarely or never said they were proud of them were three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and almost four times more likely to make a suicide plan and attempt suicide than peers whose parents sometimes or often did express pride in their children.
“A key is to ensure that children feel positively connected to their parents and family,” said Vidourek, who serves as co-director of the Center for Prevention Science, along with King.
Teens may also be more likely to try drugs or risky sexual behaviors if parents are not adequately engaged, King said.
A report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year found that the suicide rate among teen girls doubled from 2007 to 2015, and rose 30% among boys.
Experts say a range of factors contribute to suicide risk, including depression and mental health, negative influences on social media, bullying, financial struggles and exposure to violence.
So what can parents do?
“You can tell them you’re proud of them, that they did a good job, get involved with them and help them with their homework,” said King.