Approaching Kids at Risk

My teen exhibits warning signs indicating that they may be suicidal. How do I approach the situation?

Watch and Listen

  • Keep a close eye on a teen who seems depressed and withdrawn. Poor grades, for example, may signal that your teen is withdrawing at school.
  • Do not minimize or discount what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.
  • Listen optimally: give your child your full attention

Ask Questions & Communicate!
Some parents are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide in their teen’s head. It’s always a good idea to ask, even though doing so can be difficult.

  • Directly ask if he/she is thinking about suicide (e.g., “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”).
  • Sometimes it helps to explain why you’re asking. For instance, you might say: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”’
  • Keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a teen it can feel immense and consuming.
  • If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a clergy member, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor.
  • Focus on/emphasize your concern for your child’s well-being.


  • Reassure your child that there is help and he/she will not feel like this forever
  • Do not judge
  • Avoid being accusatory

Take Action

  • Provide constant supervision. Don’t leave your child alone.
  • Remove means for self-harm (e.g., firearms, large quantities of pills and sharp objects such as knives and razors)
    • 85% of youth under 18 who died by suicide used a family member’s gun, usually a parent’s.
    • Firearms are used more than any other means and they are the most lethal. Guns in the home increase the risk of suicide whether someone has a mental disorder or not.
    • Store household guns away from the home either temporarily (if someone in the house has a short-term crisis) or more permanently (if problems are more chronic).
    • If you must keep a firearm in the home, keep it unloaded and locked with the ammunition stored in a locked location separate from the firearm. A securely locked cabinet or safe provides good protection. Make sure that it truly cannot be opened by an unauthorized person (e.g., no glass fronts, no flimsy locks). Trigger locks also provide added safety.
    • Removing firearms from the home or storing them properly can dramatically reduce the risk of suicide.


  • Get help: seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible