The Importance of Family
Family! This single term is one of the most important words in our cultural vocabulary. It creates a firm sense of identity tied to important values of respect, love, strength, sacrifice, and endurance. It does not matter where we live, as caring for our families will always be a top priority integrated into our daily activities.
As Polynesian parents we take our responsibilities seriously to care for the elderly, to show respect and love for God, and to pass on the value of family first to our children. These hallmarks of our cultural identity means the entire family is immersed in carrying these values forward through future generations. We spend an insane amount of time teaching, and reteaching these values to our children to make sure our cultural heritage is never lost.
Modern Strain on Polynesian Families
But moving away from the Islands, we and our children are greeted and influenced by different cultures, ideas, values, and activities. We are no longer surrounded by a village with the same values, culture and language.
Saddled with jobs that take us away from our home, we no longer have time to consistently teach our children to learn their rich heritage and cultural values. Too often, we worry about our children and hope that their teachers and church leaders are able to help us when our children need help in school and in church. We desperately want the best for our children.
Our desire to raise good children according to the traditions of our ancestors is admirable. We are not surprised when we get compliments of how well we raised such respectful children. It’s good that our children love us, and want us to be happy. We love it when our children do well in school and sports. Our hearts are warm when we see our children sit beside us in church. And we take great pride when they perform cultural rituals properly at funerals, weddings, and other special events.
How the Modern World Affects Our Children
Yet, while our children have learned their roles and responsibilities within our culture, many of them have an interesting problem. They are growing into teenagers and young adults who are learning about themselves as individuals and compare their lives with the lives of others at school, at work, at church, and at other social activities.
They are beginning to enter a world that is different, exciting, and even liberating. Usually this means that although things at home are the same, your teenager and your young adult son or daughter is different because of many different settings or environments.
Too often, our children have left many of their parents behind and have found other mentors or examples to follow in order to get through the most challenging time of their lives. But there are many other Polynesian parents who were able to adapt their parenting of cultural values to include new skills to help their children navigate their new environments.
What Does Family And Parenting Have To Do With Suicide Prevention?
Too often as Polynesian families, we are busy surviving and providing shelter and food for our children. For those children who are struggling to communicate the problems they are facing outside of their home, too often, they are finding negative solutions that are harmful.
One of those choices could lead to suicide attempts. We sometimes take for granted that our children are doing well. So, when we get a shocking phone call from the school, reporting that our child is having suicidal thoughts, most of us are shocked, hurt, and have this sense of hopelessness.
Here are other ways I have personally seen our Polynesian parents react to this news:
- Some parents, they will express great concern and then provide support to help their child right away.
- Other parents, they will try to make things right but have absolutely no idea what to do or where to find resources.
- Some parents would be angry at their child about this situation claiming they are not telling the truth. Often, physical punishment is expected by the child.
- While still other parents ignore these warning signs as they believe this problem, if they pray hard enough, will just go away.
These different reactions to suicide occur usually because of the amount of knowledge parents have about this serious problem. But let’s look at the most recent data on suicide regarding Pacific Islanders in the United States.
Suicide Among Pacific Islander Youth
The chart below shows us that although, “Suicide is the leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander youth aged 12-19 years old,” our children are screaming for help. And they turn to their families for solutions that can help. Let me show you why I believe this to be true.
First, the chart has four parts.
- Seriously Considered Attempting Suicide
- Made a Suicide Plan
- Attempted Suicide
- Attempted Suicide Requiring Treatment
This chart tells us about suicidal thoughts and behaviors of high school youth in the United States in 2017. The chart compares youth from different ethnicities that includes Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
Look carefully at the light grey bar in the first section. You will see that our youth are the second highest group that seriously considered attempting suicide. But then, the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander were the largest group who made a suicide plan. Then, we did not have a significant number of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander youth to get on this chart for attempted suicide, and attempted suicide requirement treatment. So you see no grey bar.
Where Family Can Make the Biggest Difference
By looking at this chart, I see that our children have incredible challenges and barriers that are not being addressed. However, something has happened. Because although they are the largest group that have a suicide plan, a significant number of our children are either not attempting suicide, or they are completing their suicide attempts. In this space, we parents can make a huge difference.
Although there is very little research completed on suicide for Pacific Islander youth in the United States, studies on lowering risks of suicide attempts provide important insights. For example, Hawaiian adolescents raised in a tight-knit family that is organized, have a strong close relationship with their parents and family members have a significantly lower rate regarding suicide attempts. (Andrade et al., 2007) These attributes of high levels of family support are relevant to protective factors functioning within families.
This is such a hopeful and empowering message to families and especially for parents.
What Can We Do As A Family?
Culturally, we have a special gift. We are all family. We are all connected. My pain is your pain, just as your pain is ours. At Robert’s Place, our solution to help Pacific Islanders to overcome suicide behaviors has three main parts to help our community.
We know that if we all work together to prevent suicidal thoughts and behaviors, we will greatly reduce the terrible crisis of suicide attempts. We can also reduce the horrible nightmare of living through the crisis of a completed suicide. Because my family lived this ultimate nightmare, our family wants to be a part of your family on a very intimate journey of awareness and change.
Our Commitment to Polynesian Families
We know our community is ready to seek knowledge to understand ways we can overcome any hint of suicide. There is much to learn about the way we make sense of our life experiences. As we look back at our cultural values and traditions, we can see how they have blessed our current way of living. However, there is a need for us to connect our traditions to new ways and new experiences in order to overcome the internal conflicts we often feel but cannot explain.
The upcoming blogs for Robert’s Place will provide important knowledge to empower our Polynesian families to learn different aspects of communication, suicidal awareness, mental health education, and so much more.
Our Invitation to You
As we develop our website and social media, we ask that you become an active part of this community of suicide prevention and awareness. It is important that you share your thoughts and your messages on our different social media platforms in order for us to become a unified community of Pacific Islanders to fight this disease called suicide.