If your friend is NOT ok..

Your child comes to you and says they’re worried about one of their friends. How do you respond?
As a parent/carer, you are the person most likely to be approached. Do you feel you have the skill and knowledge to respond well? If the tables were turned and your child’s friend was asking for guidance from THEIR parent/carer about YOUR child, what do you hope would be their response?
Initially, you have two people in mind – your child who is worried, and the friend. You want to hear your child’s concerns rather than brush them off; it might have taken a lot for them to raise this with you, feeling loyalty to their friend but unsure how to help.
You might think their worry is unwarranted; even so, you can say you appreciate them letting you know, and check back with them over following days or weeks in case the worry continues or the situation worsens.
If, after listening and exploring, you too have concerns, what then? Obviously a lot depends on the particular circumstances. When faced with a new situation it’s common to be unsure what to do.
You might consider contacting the parents/carers of the other child; you might seek guidance yourself from a friend or relative, or school staff, or a community resource such as a helpline (perhaps including the Family and Community Services Helpline if you are hearing about abuse or neglect or serious self-harm).
To help allay your child’s anxiety about breaking a confidence, you would also speak with your child about why you need to take this further, and that you will be as discreet as possible about it. You could offer your child the opportunity to see the school counsellor to talk through the situation.
You might have to deal with your own anxiety if you wonder whether your child is hanging around with ‘the wrong crowd’.
There is advice available for young people on how to be supportive to a friend who’s not happy, such as a tip sheet from headspace called ‘If your friend is not OK’. You could download that and look at it together.
NSW Kids found in 2013 that two-thirds of year 9 and 10 students had known another person or friend who had a mental health problem. A third did not know a suitable adult to get help from for a friend with a mental health problem. That’s a statistic we need to change.
Finally, your child may not bring up their concerns in a direct way, or even be concerned, but your ears prick up as they talk. That’s your chance to enquire further, and help the village raise the child.
Upcoming opportunity: A six-session series for boys in years 7-10 called RAGE (Renegotiating Anger and Guilty Emotions) begins Thursday 30 April, 4.00 – 6.00 pm, at Richmond Neighbourhood Centre, phone 4588 3502, http://www.rcsi-neighbourhoodcentre.org/
 Martin Graham
School Counsellor