This Wednesday, at TCU, will be Paschal High School’s annual No More Symposium. The No More Symposium is an annual gathering of people committed to advocating for adolescent mental health, and suicide prevention. This year’s theme, Under Pressure, reflects the reality that a lot of our teenagers face — that they feel under massive pressure.
Last weekend, at The Gathering’s youth-led worship service, one of the most repeated refrains from our teenagers was that being a teenager now is different than it used to be, and y’all, that’s a message that bears hearing out, because they are right. And not just because they have iPhones and Instagram.
I work with around 125 – 150 teenagers in our community, and here’s the reality: when most of their parents were in high school, they were expected to take on-level or honors classes, go to a local college, and secure a job with which they could save for a house, pay a car note, cover expenses, and save for retirement. When I was in high school (2006 – 2010), I took 9 AP (college-credit) classes, went to a nice, out-of-state university, where I got a bachelors and masters in four years, and worked hard to land an unpaid internship in a field I was interested in. Now that these kids are in high school, they are taking often up to 20 AP classes, beginning when they’re 14 years old, and they’re not just on school soccer teams but often very competitive select and traveling teams, and taking PSAT camps just to try to get into college, which is now significantly more expensive, and will be paying off the debts accrued for going for decades to come.
Teenagers are under more pressure, from more places, with higher stakes than ever before.
And we can help, particularly if you’re a parent of a teenager. As one of our youth worship leaders said in service this past weekend, just listening to the teenagers around you, being intentional, curious, and thoughtful, about asking about their experience — even if you can’t change it — can make a huge difference in making teenagers at least feel less isolated, and more understood in their stress.
That sense of connection can make all the difference. The No More Symposium isn’t primarily an event about teenage anxiety, it was born out of the loss of teenagers in our community to suicide. I wrote a whole blog about the connection between pressure, failure, and teen suicidal ideation last year, which you can read here, but in short: when teenagers feel the pressure so severely that they cannot imagine the consequences of failing, and then something goes wrong (not making the team, failing the exam, losing a relationship) they are at a severely heightened risk for suicidal ideation, even if they had no history of clinical depression, or previous mental health issues. But here’s the good news, when a person is experiencing suicidal ideation, even one kind gesture, sense of meaningful relationship, or reminder of hope can make the difference that helps them get the help they need. We, by having honest conversations with teenagers about pressure, could make that difference.
Real talk: I would do anything to never again have to call a parent and tell them that their child is at risk of attempting to take their own life. I would do anything to never again have a child tell me that they think everyone would be better off if they were gone. One time would have been too many times, and it has been more than one time.
Being able to work with local faith, community, and school leaders on coordinating and promoting this year’s No More Symposium has assured me that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I encourage you to bring teenagers in your life, parents of teenagers in your life, or anyone who is interested in these issues to this free event on Wednesday, February 20 at TCU’s BLUU at 6:30 pm. The event will be full of hopeful conversations, practical advice, opportunities for further training, and curated resources for those who want to be a part of building a world where children are never lost to suicide, and we are all more sensitive to the ways we can support each other.
Remember to give your kids a hug today for me, and that no matter how hard things feel, they (and you) are not alone.
Director of Youth Ministries