There is a growing trend in kids enticing other kids to kill themselves. In previous generations, we only had to worry about who our kids were hanging out with in person, now we also have to worry about who our kids are hanging out with via the internet. While the internet can be a great support system for children and adults alike, it can also be dangerous.
How can we prevent our kids from falling victim?
Transparency is key! Often times parents are afraid of talking about something for fear that it will happen. However, the opposite holds true. The more we talk about suicide as something that is happening to kids/teens the less likely it is to happen. The same thing is true for social media. The more we talk about the dangers of social media to our children, the more they are aware of what can happen.
Have a dialogue and be accessible for your kids.
Let them know that if they see something scary on social media to let you know and that they won’t get in trouble. At an early age, praise your kids for labeling their emotions and for sharing with you. The goal is that if someone is pressuring your child to do something, you want to know about it. If your child is saying things like “I want to die” or “I can’t do this anymore” don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. 99.9% of the time, they really don’t have an intent to kill themselves, but it can’t hurt to ask. If you do know someone that committed suicide, whether personally or through the internet, talk about it with your child. Let them know that suicide is final and that there is no coming back from that. Talk about ways the child could have sought help and could have found alternative strategies to cope.
Know the risk factors: These risk factors can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they are important to be aware of. Some of the risk factors include, but are not limited to; children who lack social support, change in mood, loss of pleasure from activities that they used to find pleasure in, have impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies or go through a hard life event. It is important to remember, that kids don’t have the coping skills that many adults have. We expect our kids to be able to problem-solve the same way we do, but their brains are not fully developed yet. As I mentioned before, if your child mentions ending their life, don’t be afraid to ask about it. Often times kids may be trying to get your attention, but sometimes it may be a real thought.
Why are kids killing themselves at the urging of others?
Peer pressure has always been a thing, now there are just more ways to access it. The use of online chat rooms or virtual bulletin boards and forums can provide a platform for children to share their feelings with other children feeling the same way. This is often easier than talking about it in person and may present the risk of encouraging each other to commit suicide. The internet and social media can normalize and reinforce suicide. Many children write suicide notes or take videos that become viral online. These videos, notes and various other platforms glorify those who committed suicide and turn them into individuals who are now idolized by others. Sometimes kids don’t actually realize that suicide IS final. BE IN THE KNOW. It is important to keep up with the current “internet’ trends.
How is social media a culprit?
Besides giving children a platform to discuss their suicidal ideations, social media can reinforce depression and anxiety. As we all know, people only post their happy pictures and pictures of their best selves. Social media leaves children (and us) comparing ourselves to others. Limit your child’s time on social media, monitor what they are posting, and let them know that social media is only showing a snapshot of people’s lives. Everyone has bad days, they are just not on display for others to see. Monitor who your child is following on social media. Make sure to occasionally glance at your child’s phone and see what they are looking at.
What tools can we use to help? The more we learn about the potential dangers of social media, the more tools we have to help. USE THEM! You will be able to see what sites they are using, who they are talking to and some even allow you to read their messages. Again, transparency is key! Let your child know that you have access to it and explain the reasons why.
Be there for your kids. Whenever your child comes to you with a problem, take the time to listen. Praise them for coming to you and help them problem solve. Kids want attention from their parents. Spend 10 minutes a day with your child doing what they want to do. Avoid asking questions about school and just comment on the activity they love. Kids are being told what to do all day every day, it feels great for kids (even teenagers!) to have their parent do what they want to do and be totally present. Whether it is watching the Kardashians or sitting with them while they play Roblox. The more approachable you are to your child, the more likely they will confide in you. If you think your child is suffering, look for help and advice. While the internet has many disadvantages, it also has many advantages. There are countless support groups and hotlines that are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! More likely than not, other people are going through the same thing and can be your support system.
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Written by Chelsey Rosen, PsyD