My son is a senior this year. We spend every Thursday afternoon together, and have been doing so for the past five years. We talk about a lot of topics from school and homework, money, to college planning to his perspective on the world, sociology, friends, and personal stuff (I'm keeping his confidentiality), my life and work, and more. We play a lot of Canasta, go to movies, for walks, eat good food (he's turned from a picky eater into a foodie), and generally hang out. He got me started playing 2048, but I haven't gotten to 8192 yet.
Each week as we spend time together I am mostly just glad to be together, and I also notice his mood (how can I not, as a therapist). I don't probe, though.
Ever since he was little, we've talked about things, I've told him what I considered age appropriate and encouraged him to ask questions (we had a lot of deaths in our family when he was young). As he got older, he said less about personal things, as is normal and healthy as kids are preparing to separate and launch from their parents. In the last couple of years, he talks to me more again.
Each time there is a high school student suicide in Palo Alto I check in with him very directly about how he's doing, does he have suicidal thoughts (no), did he know the student (one recently, yes), would he talk to me if he was having trouble, does he know where the resources are if he doesn't want to talk to me, etc.
Since he knew one of the students, I asked him why he thought it happened, and he thought that wasn't the right focus; it was better to respect the family's privacy and mourn in the way each person needed to.
However, this past week he told me why he thinks the Palo Alto kids might be committing suicide: It's not just the pressure, school and homework load. His view is that they watch their parents have a comfortable lifestyle, and see all the things their parents have done, and wonder if they could ever do nearly as much as their parents have.
I asked if he felt this way, and he said no.
After a pause he said that I had done a lot, but that I was in Tech [before becoming a marriage counselor and there were a lot of opportunities. Like what, I asked. You taught the Internet to the [Founder of the "For Dummies" guy. You set up the Stanford Alumni email. You proposed the original "Look Inside" feature to Amazon. And other things.
I let all that sink in for a while. I told him he has a lot of good ideas, too. I was in a time and place to see and imagine what might be coming, and I put myself out there.
After we played pool for a while and were driving back, I said, You know all those things you listed as my successes? To me, my biggest success is you. Having you. The kind of a man you are turning out to be.
I don't know why these students are killing themselves. It is horrific. This is just one glimpse into one high school student's mind.
To those of you in despair: Please know there are other options. Get help. People want to help, despite how you might see it.
Parents, spend individual time with your kids. They may resist it. Mine did. But I am stubborn. Now it's not even a question between us. We look forward to it.