Adults, particularly parents and school teachers, need to be more involved in the lives of young people if instances of suicide and school violence are to be prevented, the keynote speaker said at the opening session Thursday in Sun Valley of a statewide conference on school safety.
“Students want parents and teachers more involved with their lives—no matter what they say,” said Scott Poland, a national expert on school violence. “Parents need to become more involved in their kids’ lives. They need to know not just their kids’ friends but their friends’ parents, too. At the basis of all of this is simply letting kids know we care about them.
“Who does a disturbed kid in Idaho probably turn to for help?” Poland said. “His friends, who are probably disturbed, too. We need to have them turn to a responsible adult.”
He said that without help from adults, troubled youngsters all too often resort to suicide, violence or, in some instances, even homicide.
“Everyone is aware that Idaho has a problem with suicide,” Poland said. “All Western states have a problem with suicide.”
He referenced results from a survey in Idaho conducted in 2013. The survey showed that 15.8 percent of teenagers consider suicide, that 13 percent actually make a plan and that 7 percent actually make an attempt.
More than 400 people attended the Idaho State Prevention and Support Conference, an annual event hosted by the Idaho State Department of Education.
“We must address the issue of school safety and security now more than ever,” stated Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna in a news release announcing the conference. “It is critical that school staff and stakeholder groups work together to ensure the safety of every child. Our students will never be free to learn until they are free from violence, fear and intimidation while in school.”
The conference started Thursday morning and continues today, with sessions addressing suicide among young people, bullying, networking and violence at schools, including instances of mass shootings.
In his opening remarks, Poland, currently a psychology professor and co-director of the Suicide Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, said young people often have a sense today that no one, including their parents and teachers, cares about them. He said there are very few youngsters who can’t be reached by an adult trying to provide guidance and understanding.
He said men in particular haven’t been providing the help that youngsters need.
“It’s the men in American that need to step forward and get involved in kids’ lives,” he said, noting that there is a four-year waiting period for a troubled youngster to be assigned a Big Brother.
“There’s no waiting list for a Big Sister,” he said.
Poland also said that plans to prevent suicide or school violence are all too often written but then not applied. For example, he said many schools have programs for “depression screening” but all too often the plans are not adequately utilized to identify youngsters who need help.
“I’m all for depression screening,” he said. “I think it’s the best thing that’s come along in years.”
He said schools nationwide have a tendency to conduct screening only after there are “multiple suicides.”
Another tendency that schools have, Poland said, is to try to ignore or downplay suicide by not allowing ceremonies for kids who have killed themselves, whereas tributes are typically held for youngsters who die in accidents.
He said schools and society need to address that fact of suicide rather than downplaying its existence.
“We should treat the deaths the same,” he said.