It’s happened again. Another hopeless teen chooses suicide possibly in response to cyber bullying, and this time it is tragically from her dad, a dad who posted a public-shaming video of Izzie Laxamana sitting defeated with her beautiful black hair blanketing the floor around her as he scolds her for “getting messed up.” What was she thinking jumping off the 48th Street Bridge? What was her dad thinking?
None of us will every know, but I suspect neither of them were thinking clearly. As a mother of three, psychologist, and creator of GetKidsInternetSafe I treat the suicidal teen and unthinking parent everyday. And before we rant self-righteously about what a monster this grieving father was, take a moment and reflect on your less-than-stellar parenting moments, those times you ranted, or humiliated, or hit. Recall your desperation, your fear, and your hope that this time your kids would actually listen. Because of this one impulsive intervention, maybe they’d steer clear of what was looking like a careless leap into the lake of entitlement, cruelty, or peril.
Let’s face it. Nothing makes us more crazed than our love for our babies, love that is tinged with shame and fear that we are not being our best parent, that we failed in our efforts to protect them from the dangerous things in the world. We let them watch that violent movie or allowed too much access to friends on social media who were poor influences. We did it because we wanted to make our kids happy. They begged and pleaded and it was a sweet opportunity to let them know we love them and listen to their feelings and desires. They told us to trust them, and we did. Or that time we went too far when they didn’t pick up their backpacks from the billionth time, threatening to retire as their parent or never let them do anything fun again, ever.
If you were really honest, can you say that you have the perfect formula of discipline and affectionate connection dialed in? Because if you can say yes, then your kid is either a robot or you are in deep denial. After all, the best way to teach our kids is to allow them, and ourselves, to fail – and recover, with humility, validation, and self-compassion.
The psychological research is squarely in favor of authoritative rather than authoritarian or permissive parenting. Being authoritative means being attentive, consistent, warm, strict, validating, and forgiving; not a tyrant demanding of blind obedience and not a friend accepting of all choices. Sometimes that means parenting with affection and humor. Other times it means laying down a consequence that your kids will be really angry about. But most often, it means gently guiding them through a protected path while letting them know you love them through it all, achievements AND mistakes. That includes sharing your own accomplishments and failures and limiting their exposure to content and people that pose risk or may come between you and your gullible child.
As I sit here, my heart aching from this beautiful lost child and her tortured father, I’d like to share my guess of the vulnerability this dad caved to that contributed to the loss of his daughter. Fear. In twenty years of practice I have learned to keep a keen eye out for the one thing that people seem determined to make happen, and that is to make their biggest fear come true.
I promise you it happens to all of us. Those who fear abandonment will challenge their loved ones to leave in the most ingenious of ways. Those who fear infidelity will accuse and threaten until their loved ones throw up their hands and stray. Those who fear disobedience will smother until survival depends on an epic reach for independence. Those who fear rejection will permissively allow until their loved ones to beg for boundaries.
If you are rolling your eyes in denial that you would fall victim to fear, I suspect you’re in the most danger. And if your wide-eyed and swallowing all that this article is offering, I suspect you may also need some support. Heck, if you’re breathing you deserve a hug today. Because life is hard and parenting well is even harder.
But rest assured that there is good news about fear. With patient reflection and an open heart, it doesn’t take much to identify the fears that threaten to take over the wheel. And from those insights, one can seek out the support they need to be better, do better. We can’t do this alone. If you worry you haven’t set a firm safety plan for screen use in your home, check out the GetKidsInternetSafe Screen Safety Toolkit to get started TODAY.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
This news report states Izzy wrote suicide notes on her iPod, including one to her dad saying she loves him very much and he is not responsible for her actions. Apparently her dad did not post the video. Izzy gave it to a friend who posted it on social media. An investigation revealed that there were several contributing stressors, including a history of bullying and embarrassment about sending a selfie in sports bra and leggings to a boy at school:
For my cautionary tale about selfies being passed among teens, check out http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/hey-dad-your-twelve-year-old-daughter-has-a-nude-out-wcz/