NewsLocal News


Local counselor: Listening to your teen can make all the difference

Suicide-murder in Aransas Pass.jpg
Posted at 8:57 PM, Sep 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 21:57:52-04

When news broke that local law-enforcement agencies were investigating a triple murder they suspected was committed by a 15-year-old boy, the first thought on many people's minds was simply "Why?"

As those agencies continue to learn about William Quince Colburn III and try to understand why he was compelled to fatally shoot his father, mother, sister -- and ultimately himself -- questions of mental health will arise.

Whether Colburn suffered from a diagnosed mental illness is unknown. However, it's undeniable that over the last year-and-a-half, even children and teenagers who never before showed signs of mental strain are feeling stressed.

Family Counseling Service's Director of Clinical Programs Maria Graciano said one of the most important things a parent or adult can do is listen.

Listen when kids and adolescents talk about their day, and about who did what silly thing at school. And it's just as important to listen when they're not talking.

Graciano said one big sign of a teen or child in crisis is silence. Rolling their eyes is normal. Talking back is normal. No affect or interaction at all is not.

"It's so important for them to say something," she said. "As long as they say something. That way when they’re talking, let’s listen."

Graciano said that, as parents, it's instinct to try and fix a problem, or minimize the issue in order to try and make kids feel better.

"I think that’s our reaction to kiddos: ‘You’re gonna be fine, dude,' " she said. " 'I knew, and know, exactly what you’re going through, and you’re gonna be fine.’ ".

When, in most cases, she said, they're just looking to be heard.

"I think that response needs to be changed to ‘Hey, dude, I know it’s hard and I’m here for you,' " she said. "Instead of ‘It’s gonna be fine,' which I think that’s not what they want to hear anyway, it’s just: ‘I’m here for you and I understand. I understand that this is really hard for you.' "

COVID-19 significantly has altered what already is a difficult age of development. Before, teens' biggest concerns were getting to football games and hanging out with friends -- getting into a good college.

Now, the novel coronavirus has induced anxiety in some, and has others thinking about whether they'll even be around to see college, Graciano said.

"We’re talking about this issue of mortality at a very young age because of COVID, and before there wasn’t this," she said. " ‘Are my parents going to be around? Is anybody gonna pass away from this thing?' I did have a couple of kids share with me in my office ‘I hate COVID,’ and I understand why, right? Because it’s taken away from them."

Isolation during the height of the pandemic in 2020 forced adolescents to stay home, cutting off their ability to socialize with their friends, and reducing their worlds to four walls.

"You don’t have your own space and you aren’t able to go out and do other things, and you aren’t able to go out and explore the world, " she said. "Yeah, it caused some issues because there’s this sense of 'I have nowhere to go.' It is high-stress to have to do everything in the home.”

The chief deputy of the San Patricio County Sheriff's Office said Adrian Rodriguez Colburn was homeschooled. Rodriguez also said Colburn made threats against unnamed local schools, reportedly on a popular group-chat site called Discord.

Social-networking sites also add to the anxiety that already comes with being a teenager, Graciano said.

" 'Are people paying too much attention to me? Are people paying not enough attention to me. How many people have watched my video? How many times am I posting?' " she said. "These are worries that kids have now."

And they're so focused on being seen online that they don't think about the adverse effects; Which is natural, Graciano said.

"Teens behave the way they do because the part of their brain that controls judgement and emotion, which is the pre-frontal cortex, hasn’t developed fully," she said. "So what you’re wanting your child to do is to have better judgement and control their emotions, but their brain is still developing in there."

Officials said Colburn posted photos of his family members after killing them, where law enforcement saw the pictures and eventually were able to track him down.

"Not only did he do it, but now (his thoughts go to) 'I’m also making sure that everybody knows,' " she said.

Graciano also said between the Internet and COVID-19, teens are starting to doubt adults more quickly that previous generations.

"We have the Internet now, and (kids) can pretty much understand how we, as adults, haven't even been in (agreement on COVID-19), so that creates this idea that, like, 'Adults don't even know what they're doing, so clearly I'm not going to go to an adult for some advice,' " she said.

But not wanting a parents' counsel, though, doesn't mean they don't still need their parents.

"I think that the underlying thing for adolescents, and the thing that we get away from as adults is 'Am I safe?’ and ‘Is anybody there for me?’ ” she said.

If you know or suspect a teen is in crisis, call the Los Angeles-based Teen Line. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and is free and confidential.