Teen Temper Tantrums, Self Abuse and Suicide Pacts

Dec 12, 2003

The Bottom Line Maintaining strict discipline and keeping a sharp eye on childhood temper tantrums can lower the incidence of teen temper tantrums or worse..

It is never easy dealing with childhood temper tantrums, but what about teens who continue to exhibit such behavior? What happens when the temper tantrums escalate to the point of self abuse and threats of suicide believing that they will finally get their way?

How does a mother know if the self abusive teen temper tantrums will culminate in suicide?

These are but a few of the stinging questions that plagued my mind like a swarm of bees last night as I made a most difficult parental decision. Striving to save my child from himself, I signed him into the custody of mental health professionals better equipped to deal with his anger, his self-abuse and his suicidal ideation.

I am not a child psychologist nor am I a highly respected mental health professional. However, I am a concerned, loving mother who has raised three children teaching them to value life, to treat themselves and others with respect and to face their problems head on. I use parenting skills that were passed on to me from my mother and from other wise experienced parents.

Yet somehow, I have failed my child.

Childhood Temper Tantrums
My son has had temper tantrums from the time that he discovered that if he threw himself to the floor and kicked and screamed loud enough, he just might get his way. He grew up believing that this method was tried and true. Admittedly, giving into my son's often wild and increasingly violent tantrums has had an adverse effect on his adolescent development.

In fact, my son became convinced that if he began a tantrum with constant annoying whining, followed by begging and making conditional demands like "I will do this, if you will only let me do that", then he will tire me out to the point that I will just give in.

In too many cases, it worked.

Now, at age sixteen, my son honed his skills of emotional and intellectual manipulation. Yes, sadly, I became putty in his hands! During the early stages of my own recovery from major depression, my boy took great advantage of his mother and somehow I allowed him to rule the household. During occasional periods when I was able to stand firm like a brick wall against him he devised other ways to get his way. This is when the self-abusive behaviors worsened.

Self-Abusive Temper Tantrums
I first noticed that whenever I was adamant about adhering to house rules, my son would punch his tightly clenched fists into the walls, doors or any other piece of furniture in his way. Not only was this an attention getter, it also caused him physical damage. I would tend to his physical wounds and the demands at hand were somehow tossed by the wayside.

My son inevitably took this to mean that he had won and that I had silently conceded. These self-abusive violent temper tantrums became increasingly more severe.

If only I had been more vigilant. If only I had caught the early signs that my child was in trouble. If only........

Early Warning Signs
One morning several months ago, I noticed several scratch marks on my son's upper arms. These marks were self-inflicted three inch cuts made by a standard kitchen knife. I was shocked and I was angry. Shocked because I never thought that my son would resort to cutting himself in order to elicit sympathy from me and I was angry because he is well aware of the emotional trauma that goes along with self-mutilation.

My nephew is a self-mutilator with bipolar disorder in remission. His recovery has been slow and very painful. I learned quite a lot of important information while researching the symptoms of bipolar disorder and the correlation to self-mutilation.

Little did I know that right under my nose, my own sixteen year old son had begun delving into this very thing. Looking back, I believe that I handled this inappropriately. I did not realize then that my child was crying out for help.

In hindsight, I see it clearly now. The mysterious bruises, the self imposed hand prints on his face, the self-induced vomiting and the many scars that he tried to hide were warnings that I had missed. He lied about these things, stating that he had cut himself on a closet nail, or bumped himself on a corner of the table or that he tripped and fell mysteriously.

The warning signs were there and I missed them all.

Teen Suicide Pacts
It wasn't long after these distressing physical signs soon changed to signs of emotional dissatisfaction with his life. My son would get more and more angry if his attempts to control me failed. He started saying words that made my ears perk up like a hound hearing a strange noise.

Key phrases like "I might as well be dead" or "I hate living like this" or "everyone would be better off without me around" and worse "I want to kill myself" are extreme warnings that a child in crying out for help.

I had dialog with my son about these statements and he always brushed them off by saying things like "just forget I said it" or "I was only kidding". The truth is that he was not joking about something as critical as suicidal ideation.

I knew that my son was showing signs of depression. His temper tantrums had escalated to the point of physical abuse against himself and then the trigger words of thoughts of suicide surfaced.

So, then I ask myself how did I miss this?

A few days ago, my child's school principal called me with devastating information. My teen had apparently reached out to a fellow student, expounding on his shortcomings, his "life's" failures, his broken dreams and self loathing. He and this young girl became very good friends, promising to always be there for each other in life ....and in death!

As shocking as this may sound, my son and this friend shared similar emotional turmoil, heartache and pain. They were both cutting their skin to release inner pain in an attempt to deal with their realities. They had made a suicide pact that if one cannot or will not go on in life then the other would also end theirs.

What's A Parent to Do
I did what any parent would do in the best interest of their child. We sought treatment for his angry outbursts and helped him to find creative venues for his emotional frustrations with his friends of the opposite sex and his low self-esteem associated with his body image.

He began to exercise and lift weights with diligence, skillfully sculpting his overweight frame into a tight bulk of toned muscle. He learned many new songs on his electric guitar and wrote a lot of poetry.

My boy seemed to be doing much better, learning to control his angry outbursts and realizing that in order to live in our society, he must adhere to rules and regulations. He seemed to accept that those rules and regulations began in the home.

But, it was only an act, apparently.

I took my son to the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation. The awful suicide notification that fell into the hands of his high school principal was more than I needed to take appropriate immediate action.

It was determined that my teen was in serious trouble. I agreed to have him transported to a facility where psychiatric doctors, nurses, clinicians, therapists, teachers and social workers could begin the process of his long recovery.

Final Thoughts
I may have missed the very early warning signs of my child's temper tantrums rapid evolution into violent teen temper tantrums, physical self-abuse and eventual suicidal ideation.

However, it is never too late to seek professional help when the signs become a fluorescent cry for help.

Let's listen to our children before it is too late.

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