Alive to Thrive Introduction

Being alive in Christ also means that God is with us in our pain, in our sorrows, and in our everyday moments. We find this life through a trusting relationship with God. To thrive means to be free to be the person God designed us to be, in our strengths, talents, flaws, challenges, imperfections, and all.

When fifteen-year-old Marcos was released from a psychiatric hospital after attempting to take his own life, he started seeing a therapist. The therapist was Danny Huerta, a licensed clinical social worker who is now the vice president of parenting and family for Focus on the Family. Huerta still remembers this boy from those sessions years ago.

After a few weeks of therapy, Marcos told Huerta something that every teen in crisis deserves to hear:

“I’m so glad now that I didn’t kill myself,” Marcos said, “because I see that life changes quickly, and I would’ve missed out on some pretty cool things. And I want other kids to know that life doesn’t stay the same forever, that it can have bounce.”

Marcos is right. When kids are down, it’s easy for them to think life is stuck there—that “down” is forever. In that state, their minds filter circumstances only in a negative way. But now Marcos realizes that “down” times can bounce to “up” times in a hurry. And he not only wanted to be alive for those “up” times, he wanted to thrive.

We want the same thing for every child, especially for those who may be thinking as Marcos did before his suicide attempt.

That’s why we’ve created Alive to Thrive. Its purpose is to equip you—parents, teachers, and pastors—to help your kids pursue healthy lives and develop resilience in response to difficult times.

For several years, death by suicide among children and teens has been increasing in frequency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among teen girls recently reached a forty-year high.1 The Dana Foundation reports that nine out of ten deaths by suicide have an underlying diagnosable mental health issue.2 That’s a concern, because fifteen million children ages three to seventeen have a diagnosable mental, behavioral, and/or emotional disorder, yet only 3 percent of those young people (three million) actually receive help.3 A person diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, or certain personality disorders has an 8 to 10 percent lifetime risk of death by suicide.4

We want to lessen that risk; we want kids alive—and we want them to thrive.

What does it mean to be alive and to thrive? If we look for the definition in the Bible, we learn what it means to be alive in Christ and to have an abundant and thriving life with Jesus. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Being alive in Christ also means that God is with us in our pain, in our sorrows, and in our everyday moments. We find this life through a trusting relationship with God. To thrive means to be free to be the person God designed us to be, in our strengths, talents, flaws, challenges, imperfections, and all.

God created us to be in relationship. He wants us to experience pleasure, connectedness, safety, happiness, satisfaction, enjoyment, and love through healthy relationships. But as we all know, relationships can also include pain, emptiness, sorrow, betrayal, hurt, and suffering. We hope this resource will help you prepare your kids for those painful times of life. We want to equip you to do all you can to raise resilient kids, kids who can find their way back to the “bounce” in life and to an abundant, thriving life in Christ.

Alive to Thrive Is Different

Alive to Thrive is not the type of suicide prevention resource that simply offers the warning signs or helps you deal with the aftermath of a teen’s death by suicide. Alive to Thrive takes a truly preventative approach. We discuss issues that we know can lead to suicide, and we teach you how to address them long before your child might ever entertain thoughts of ending his or her life.

It’s for this reason that Part One begins with the best defense against suicide: preparing your children for healthy living. Building a good foundation for your children includes assuring a secure parent-child attachment, practicing self-care, providing loving discipline, and supporting your child.

Part TwoPart Three, and Part Four explain key issues that can set your child or teen on a trajectory (barely noticeable at the time) toward suicidal thoughts and actions.

Part Five describes the major behavioral issues that are red-flag warning signs of potential suicidal tendencies. These behaviors can push teens toward thoughts of ending their lives.

It’s Part Six where most suicide prevention programs begin—and where we discuss signs that your child may be suicidal, what to do when you suspect he or she may actually be suicidal, and how to respond when suicide crashes into your world and takes the life of your teen or a friend or acquaintance.

By starting where Alive to Thrive does, you’ll be equipped to notice “pre-warning” signs and know how to take action steps before the issues become serious. When you navigate a ship, making small navigational alterations from the beginning to stay on course saves the journey from becoming hundreds of miles longer. In the same way, as you address issues early on, you can direct your children away from suicidal thinking before they find themselves anywhere near a destructive destination.

Looking at Difficult Issues

This guide delves into several subjects that may be hard for some parents to talk about. As parents, you’ll be challenged to reflect on your own childhood from time to time as well. In many of these discussions, the word trauma is used. To make sure we’re speaking the same language, here’s a working definition of this word:

Trauma comes from the Greek word for a wound. Trauma is any serious injury to the body or mind. Most often it’s the result of violence or an accident, which causes great distress, pain, anxiety, sorrow, affliction, or acute physical or mental suffering. Trauma throws the mind and/or the body out of balance: it causes us to become dysregulated. Dysregulation can thwart the brain’s ability to think clearly, perceive accurately, and develop fully. Two primary ways to wound, cause distress, or inflict trauma are to either do something bad to the person (abuse) or to fail to do something good for the person (neglect).

If your mind and body experience a difficult circumstance and still maintain their balance—or rebalances quickly after the impact—you are not traumatized. You may be hurt, but you’re not traumatized. You are what we call resilient. Resilience is the internal ability to regulate yourself so you can keep your balance or quickly return to it after losing your equilibrium. If you are resilient, your mind and body can return to regular working order.

So is every unpleasant event traumatic? Will your son be traumatized if he doesn’t get a trophy at the end of soccer season? No. Trauma only happens when the mind or body is subjected to a negative impact so great that it’s unable to absorb the shock and loses its normal stability.

As parents, we can relax: Kids have great resilience, more so than many adults. With a little timely intervention, we can keep most of the painful and hurtful events our kids encounter from becoming traumatizing. The key is to recognize the issue quickly enough and offer wise bits of help and comfort.

No Perfect Parents

Parenting is hard and rewarding and painful and joyful: It’s a whole bundle of emotions, experiences, and challenges all mixed together. It’s a hard job, so let’s stop for a moment and make one important fact clear: You don’t have to be perfect as a parent—just good enough.

At no time in history has there been more pressure on us to be Super Mom or Super Dad, able to leap the tall buildings of child-rearing in a single bound, providing our kids with the best physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual support from infancy to young adulthood.

Hear this loud and clear: You do not have to be a super parent. You do not need to be perfect yourself, you do not need to do everything “just right,” and you do not have to “do it all.” Before there were books and YouTube tutorials on how to parent “the right way” (whatever that is), parents competently raised children generation after generation. Information is great, for sure; pressure from others or yourself is not.

This is not a you-need-to-do-more-and-need-to-do-it-right-all-the-time manual—it’s a use-what-you-can guide. Please keep that in mind as you read this. Make notes if you wish and discuss the ideas we offer, and then simply take what you can use and apply it. That’s it.

Our Hope for You

It’s our hope and desire that Alive to Thrive will help you head off any serious challenges that could lead your children into dangerous territory. We want you to become equipped with everything you need to help your kids find the life God has for them instead of looking for the emergency exit of life.

Eighteen licensed and highly experienced Christian counselors contributed to this resource. You’ll not only find information here to help you learn more about topics contributing to the devastating problem of suicide, but you’ll also learn practical ways to start important conversations with your kids. May God strengthen and guide you as you help your children choose to be Alive to Thrive.

  • Quick Stats: Suicide Rates for Teens Aged 15-19 Years, by Sex –United States, 1975-2015,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, August 4, 2017, a6.htm.
  • Carl Sherman, “Seeking the Mental Roads that Lead to Suicide,” The Dana Foundation, January 30, 2018, http:// _to_Suicide/.
  • Quick Stats: Suicide Rates for Teens.”
  • “Seeking the Mental Roads that Lead to Suicide.”

Part 1: The Best Defense Against Suicide

As parents, we take seriously the job of raising our kids. We want them to grow up to be healthy, fulfilled followers of Jesus Christ. There are so many things you can do—and probably already do—to reduce the chances of one of your kids considering suicide. The best defense against suicide begins from day one, with a strong foundation at home as you prepare your kids for healthy living.

If you’ve already been a parent for years, you might not think this section applies to you—but it does. Taking time to consider the topics of parent-child attachment, self-care, loving discipline, and support might reveal an underlying issue with one of your children that may warrant further investigation.

Don’t worry; this isn’t a blame-the-parents section. It’s a be-aware-and-alert section as well as a prevention section. If the following information raises questions in your mind about one of your kids, there’s a lot you can do. You can steer your child’s life in a different direction, avoiding any journey toward negative behaviors or suicidal choices…CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Part 2: Things That May Make Your Children Vulnerable to Suicide

Part one focused on the home environment and how to make it a place where your kids can establish healthy attachments, feel loved and accepted, and have the space they need to grow and expand their horizons. These aspects of parenting, which are firmly under your coaching and influence, can be challenging enough even under ideal circumstances.

But as you know, children move beyond their home environment. Even though we want to do everything in our power to equip our kids with the skills, the knowledge, and the attitudes they need to succeed in life, there’s a sense in which all bets are off once they step outside the front door.

As hard as we parents try to guard our kids, we’re not the only influences in their lives. And even when we do all we can, our kids may still face circumstances that hurt them. Seeing a child get hurt is probably one of the hardest things a parent can experience, even if it’s not a life-threatening kind of harm. We don’t want our kids to hurt—of course we don’t! And we will protect them from the things we can.

Yet like it or not, we need to be aware of unforeseen situations that can take our children by surprise and shake their spiritual, mental, and emotional stability. Worldly values, significant losses, divorce, domestic violence, and bullying all fall under this category…CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Part 3: Mental Health Issues and Suicide

Mental illness is most damaging when it goes undetected or ignored. It’s important to know that mental illness is a common ingredient in suicide— and it’s much more common than we’d like it to be. We need to be informed so we can notice signs of mental illness in our kids—if and when they occur. No parent wants to admit, “My child has a mental illness.” Yet mental illness is not a condemnation of our parenting or of our children. It’s something that can be addressed and worked through.

This section will help you know the signs and symptoms of certain mental illnesses and what to look for, and know the steps to take if symptoms are present so you can address the situation before it leads to suicidal thoughts. We start by comparing what’s normal with true mental illness. Then we take a close look at depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We’ll address the issue of medication briefly, and end this section with some thoughts on how to find a good therapist if your child’s situation calls for that form of outside assistance…CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Part 4: Technology and Suicide

Is technology good or bad? Ask ten people that question, and you’ll get fourteen different opinions. It’s a complicated issue, and it’s hard to keep pace with all the new and changing aspects of our technologically infused lifestyles.

Regardless of your personal opinions, there’s a strong correlation between how technology is used and suicide. In this section, we look briefly at three larger categories: social media, sexting, and the overexposure to traumatic images…CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Part 5: Problem Behaviours and Suicide

Alcohol and drug use, eating disorders, and self-harm/injury all have a close connection with suicidal thoughts and tendencies. The purpose of this section is to simply let you know the warning signs of these behaviors, as well as how best to respond if you see signs of problems in your child’s life…CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Part 6: Dealing with the Issue of Suicide

Our hope is that you will never need to use the material in this section with your own children. Unfortunately, suicide has worked itself into our culture to the point where it’s become commonplace. As parents, we must talk about it with our kids. We need to take a proactive approach, for ourselves and our kids. The internet and many public school districts have plenty of information of what to do once someone has died by suicide. Let’s talk about what you can do before things get to that terrible point…CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

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Download all of this content in a single e-book experience. Written by Christian clinical experts, Alive to Thrive is designed to help parents and ministry leaders understand how suicide can be prevented.

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