Over-protecting children and solving their problems for them could be contributing to a higher rate of suicide among young people, an Irish GP has warned.
Harry Barry, who was speaking at the Console World Suicide Prevention Day Conference at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, said parents need to teach their children how to cope effectively with failure so they are better equipped to deal with downfalls later on in life.
“Parents have a massive role to play in not overprotecting children and helping them to problem solve rather than solving problems for them,” said Dr Barry.
“Our mindset should be ‘I will not solve the problem for you’. You can be with them, show them what to do, let them do it and let them fail. Because a critical life skill is that failure is part of life.”
Dr Barry, who is also a board member of depression support organisation Aware, said children should not be lied to. Parents are telling children that life is fair and they then grow up believing this untruth, meaning they are unprepared for the failures they will inevitably experience later on in life.
This, said Dr Barry, makes those failures seem bigger and more insurmountable than they actually are and young people who cannot cope with the problems that arise later in life may see no other option than to end their own lives.
“When I go to Leaving Cert classes, one of the things I ask them to try and go away with is the message that life is not fair,” he said. “And, actually, it rings true with them. It’s the truth. And the second one is that life is full of discomfort. Things are not always going to be the way you want them to be.
“We need to almost have it embedded in their brains before they start college that they are going to encounter difficulties. That they are going to have a lot of discomfort. And it’s how they learn to handle that and change things and look at things that are going to make them adaptable.”
Dr Barry said while these important life lessons need to start at a very early age and should initially come from parents, the education system has a part to play.
“I would love to see schools putting aside time for role playing where scenarios would be created,” he said. “Roleplay what it would be like to be depressed and get them to problem-solve what they would do. And the whole point of that would be if they do hit a crisis when they go to college, for example, because that’s when a lot of the problems arise, they actually have some skills to go back on.
“And for god’s sake, we have to get them before they get to college because when they get to college they’re lost. We need to get them before they get out into the big bad world and we need to teach them how to problem solve and how to adapt. If we do those things, we’re going to prevent suicides.”
Console CEO Paul Kelly echoed these sentiments and called on parents and educators to teach their children to expect some letdowns later on in life.
“We have to teach our children that not everything will go right in their lives, that they will suffer many disappointments and that some will upset them greatly,” he said.
“In the rush to achieve, be it through points, places or salaries, we are producing a generation of young people for whom it is all or nothing. We need to teach our young people that nothing is a matter of life and death.”
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