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I recently found out that my 15-year-old son has been dating another boy for a long time. I am trying to be OK with him dating boys, but I heard them talking about love and marriage. So I told my son to break it off and locked him in his room overnight to ensure he didn’t sneak out. In response, my son tried to kill himself. He’s in the hospital now and may be there for awhile. I feel horrible, because it’s all my fault. I talked to my older son, who said the younger boy has been cutting himself. I’m going to let him see his boyfriend again, but what else can I do to make this up to him?
You’re looking at this problem from the wrong direction. Let’s consider some facts:
- As the parent of a minor, you have the authority to monitor his conduct and the responsibility to prevent him from taking actions that could be dangerous. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that your son was dating a boy. If he was getting too serious with a girl, you could have taken the same action, with the same result. You took steps to change conduct you found inappropriate, and while locking a 15-year-old in his room is a fairly serious reaction, it is not unheard of.
- Your older son knew about your younger son’s suicidal tendencies but apparently did not tell you about them. Had he filled you in, perhaps you could have taken some action to help your younger son. There is plenty of blame to go around in this situation.
- You didn’t cause the suicide attempt. Your son simply overreacted to your restrictions. However, you did fall short in your efforts to be a responsible parent. Regardless of your older son’s unwillingness to share the truth with you, your lack of knowledge of your younger son’s problems serves as a condemnation of your relationship with the boy. Fortunately, it is not too late for you to do something about this.
Bottom line: You are not responsible for your son’s suicide attempt, so stop beating yourself up over it. The boy decided to take his own life. Even if you had not put him on lockdown, other motivators could have caused him to do the same thing. The suicide attempt is a symptom of a larger problem, one that you can now address openly.
You don’t need to make it up to him. You need to become a better parent by drastically changing the way you interact with the boy. Actually, that’s not strong enough admonition. You need to become a better parent, to put in whatever time and effort is needed to rebuild your relationship with your sons. Both of them. Pay attention to both what they say and what they do. Be there for them and try your best to understand them.
But relenting on the dating restriction is a huge mistake, because it will teach your younger son that if he goes so far as to attempt suicide, he can change your mind. This boy already has a tendency to cut himself, and you cannot afford to let him believe that such actions will actually give him power over his parents. That imbues him with a dangerous kind of control, in effect abdicating your parental authority and turning it over to a child who has proved he lacks the competence to wield it.
Your son needs professional help, and I advise that you bring in a psychiatrist trained to deal with suicidal impulses. I also recommend that you consult another professional, the type who won’t charge you by the hour. Talk to your pastor. And then talk to his boss. At length. Your family needs that kind of therapy as well.
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