Why Parents Should Talk About Bullying, Rape, & Suicide

Mom comforting daughter

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

When Netflix announced it was developing a mini-series based on Jay Asher's book, "13 Reasons Why," fans of the book were excited to see it come to life. In the book, and in the series, the story revolves around a fictional high school teenager named Hannah Baker, who died by suicide and left behind cassette tapes for the 13 people she feels let her down and impacted her decision.

Through these recordings, viewers discover what these 13 people did to Hannah. Their wrongdoings involve everything from bullying, sharing compromising photos, and failing to stand up for her, to starting rumors and even sexual assault.

But some psychiatrists and suicide prevention experts caution that the popular Netflix series may do more harm than good. Their biggest concern is that the movie will increase the number of teen suicides because there is some evidence that suicide is contagious. In other words, when suicide receives a lot of media attention, suicide rates typically increase.

Meanwhile, some viewers disagree and find that the subject matter highlights not only the rise of ruthless and thoughtless bullying in high school but also the teen acceptance of sexual assault. Regardless of your thoughts about the series, it has highlighted the importance of talking to your kids about three of the biggest issues impacting the lives of young people—bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. The only big teen issue the movie doesn't address is substance abuse.

Why Not to Avoid Difficult Topics

Avoiding the difficult subjects in your teen's life is not going to make them go away or keep them from happening. What's more, the lack of communication can actually be a disservice to them, especially because suicide is the second leading cause of death of 15-34 year-olds.

Meanwhile, females aged 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape attempted rape or sexual assault than the general population. And, one out of every five students reports being bullied. As a result, there is no doubt these issues plague teenagers on a daily basis and you should be talking about them.

Having a direct, genuine conversation with your kids about suicide, rape, and bullying is not only healthy, but it could also be life-saving. Yet, many parents refrain from talking to their kids about the tough issues, particularly suicide, because they are afraid talking will put the idea in their head. But research has shown that silence and stigma prevent those at risk from reaching out for support.

If your child is already thinking about suicide, talking about it can actually bring some hope and perspective into their life. What's more, you are letting your teen know that it is OK to talk about these issues.

Challenging Things to Discuss With Your Teens

When you do talk to your kids about the tough subjects of suicide, rape, bullying, dating violence and more, be direct and be armed with ideas and information.

Having Challenges Is Normal

Communicate that what they are experiencing is not a normal part of teen life. A lot of media does not portray suicide, rape, or bullying accurately. In fact, it can often be sensationalized or glamorized. Teens need to know that feeling depressed or suicidal may happen to a lot of teens they know, but it is not something that has to be accepted as a normal part of teen life.

Many people believe and even suggest that teens who talk about suicide are just going through a phase, wanting attention, and that they will get over it. That is not the case. In fact, as adults we need to pay attention and give teens what they need—a way out that is healthy and supportive.

If someone has been raped or bullied they are not going to just "get over it." In each of these scenarios, teens need help from a doctor, a counselor, or a psychologist to begin the healing process. They also need to know that their parents are there to support them and help them.

Explain What Is Healthy and What Is Not

Teens need to hear from their parents that bullying, dating violence, pressures for sex, sexting, sexual assault and so on are not healthy behaviors. Assuming that they are puts them at risk for abuse from others. Instead, your teens need to hear what healthy friendships and dating relationships look like.

They also need to hear that they are valuable and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Likewise, it is not healthy to ruminate about suicide. If your teen is thinking about suicide and has thought about ways in which she would do it, you need to have her talk with a mental health professional. Thinking about suicide is one of the warning signs of suicidal behavior.

Empower Them With Knowledge

Talking to your kids openly and honestly about difficult topics like sexual assault, bullying, and suicide gives them accurate and helpful information from the person they trust the most—you. For instance, talking about suicide does not plant the idea in someone's head. It actually opens up communication about a topic that is often kept a secret.

Likewise, bullying and sexual assault are often kept secret. But when secret topics are exposed and discussed, they become less powerful and scary. Talking also communicates to your kids that these topics are not off limits and they can bring them up anytime they want to.

Let Them Know What to Watch Out For

As a parent, it is your job to educate your kids about the importance of taking care of their mental health just like you do with their physical health. As a result, they need to know the warning signs of depression and suicide and how to get help if needed.

They also need to know how to deal with bullying should it ever occur, including how to avoid bullying hot spots and how to stand up to a bully or defend themselves. Likewise, teens need to know that sexual assault is more likely to happen with people they know, such as at a party or with someone they are dating. Stress that sexual assault is never their fault and that you will not blame them even if they are breaking a family rule. Make sure they know that you want them to talk to you.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

When you talk to your kids regularly about hard and sensitive subjects, you are fostering a mindset with your kids that you are there to help. Suddenly, no topic is too embarrassing to discuss and they feel like they can ask you anything.

Warn Them About Secrets

Educate them on what can happen if they do not talk. It is also important to make sure your teen knows that keeping secrets about bullying, sexual assault, and suicide is not healthy nor is it wise. Whether the person who is experiencing the crisis is them or a friend, these are not issues that should be dealt with alone or without adult assistance.

Make sure they know that talking to others, while it may be painful or embarrassing, is the best way to get help. And if they do not tell someone about what they are experiencing (or what a friend is experiencing), things could get worse.

Communicate That They Are not Alone

Feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and hopelessness are common with victims of bullying and sexual assault as well with people who are feeling suicidal. As a result, talking about these issues and allowing teens to express their feelings communicates that someone does care and that they are not alone.

Never underestimate the power of feeling supported. Even if your teen has nothing significant happening in their lives, talking regularly still lets them know that you care and that you are there for them.

Let Them Know That Help Is Available

When you talk to your teens about these issues it helps you get a better picture of what they are experiencing, what they are seeing at school and what they are dealing with. And if your child is struggling with something, you can offer unconditional love and support as well as get them any type of outside help they might need. This can be very encouraging for kids to realize that someone can help them make sense of what they are experiencing.

Communicate That They can Feel Better

No teen enjoys feeling lonely and sad. They also do not like the pain and humiliation that can occur with bullying, rape, and even suicide. When you talk regularly with your teen about what is normal and what is not, this message gets ingrained. As a result, they are more likely to recognize that how they are feeling is not normal and talk to you about it. And they may be more willing to get help for their friends who are struggling with feelings of anxiety and depression.

Emphasize That They Do not Deserve It

Too many times, teens believe that if bullying or sexual assault occurs, then the victim did something to deserve it. But if you are talking with your kids on a regular basis they will start to realize that no one deserves to be bullied and no one deserves to be raped.

Not only is this message good for your teens to hear, but it also helps them empathize with people they know who are victimized. And, they are more likely to repeat and believe this message—that no one deserves to be bullied or raped—when you are communicating it on a regular basis.

Give Them Ideas on How to Get Help

Make sure your kids not only know they can talk to you, but that they also know how to get help in other ways. Talk to them about suicide hotlines, rape crisis lines, and the roles of school counselors. It is important to equip your teens with tools to address these big issues.

Reduce Stigma

The more you discuss these topics with your teens, the more you take the stigma away and give your kids the opportunity to talk openly and freely. Make sure your kids know that no topic is off limits with you. By creating this type of atmosphere in your home, your kids are more likely to come to you with questions and concerns.

This doesn't mean you do not have to watch for suicide warning signs or symptoms of depression. But having open dialogues with your kids increases the likelihood that they will reach out.

Aim for Prevention

Help prevent these things in their lives. While no conversation will completely eliminate the risk of suicide, bullying or rape, it can go a long way in educating your kids about what can happen. And even if your teen never faces any of these situations, the odds are very high that someone they know will. If you are diligent about talking to them about the hard topics, then chances are they will know they can come to you for help.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. RAINN. Children and teens: statistics.

  2. Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Program. Bullying statistics.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.