When tragedy strikes, it doesn’t just impact the individual or the family, it impacts the entire community. Especially, in the case of a school district and the impact of several tragedies (in this case suicides) in a matter of weeks, can leave a lasting hole for years to come. In Rancho Cucamonga, CA, about 45 min east of Los Angeles, had 4 suicides in a matter of weeks in the same school district. “Four students who attended Rancho Cucamonga school districts — a 10-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl, a 16-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy — died by suicide from Aug. 6 to Aug. 19, officials said this week.” -LA times and it left a community mourning and asking themselves how could this happen. –LAtimes.com
A student from Rancho Cucamonga, California reached out to us after tragedy struck her community. In her message, she tells us that “police are saying it’s because of online sharing”. She reached out because she wanted to stop the painful ripple effect that was hitting her community and the entire county. Youth suicide has gone up more than 70% since 2006
“Teen suicide rate up 70% from 2006 to 2016”
I spend most of my time on campuses across this country speaking on behalf of organizations who help prevent tragedies just like these and I consider it an honor. Sadly I am often there on behalf of these organizations and Let’s Talk Teens as a response to a suicide. The attention has to shift from defensive education, after the fact to prevent another one, to offensive to prevention. Sadly many school districts don’t have the funding to provide mental health curriculum and many districts do not even have a budget to have a full-time counselor, psychologist or social workers. The social and emotional education that is spreading throughout the United States is a must in truly preventing the painful reality so many communities are met with today and the funding to provide these resources has to become a priority in EVERY school district no matter the economic abilities of the area. This is a horrific travesty that we have to take action as parents, youth worker and educators to redirect the derailing train that is the iGenerations (born after 1995) mental health and as a whole.
The good news is we are beginning to take affirmative action with resources like social and emotional education, positive and proven programming for schools, and talking about things like suicide, depression, self-harm and other challenges our teens face in a disarming way to get kids talking. (see resources below) But, and that’s the fact that social media is playing an alarming part in the demise of our teens. We have to think to ourselves what has changed to create this significant increase in our teens feeling that the only way out of their pain is to leave this life.
We have to think to ourselves what has changed to create this significant increase in our teens feeling that the only way out of their pain is to leave this life.
- Smartphone 2000
- Myspace launched in 2003
- Facebook was officially launched in 2004
- Twitter 2006
- Tumbler 2007
- iPhone 2007
- Kik Messenger 2009
- Instagram 2010
- Snapchat 2011
- Music.ly 2014
Not all tech is terrible, but releasing our kids into the big digital world without education is like sending them out into the Hawaii waves without ever teaching them how to swim. We may see them drowning and freak out, swim out there save them, but when they throw a fit and want to go back in the water, we let them with only the basics in the doggy paddle to see them drown once again. It feels overwhelming and sometimes once our child has gone through cyberbullying or been exposed to unhealthy communities/ videos and pictures we feel like it’s too late, but as parents we have to teach them to swim and be advanced swimmers before we ever let them go back out into the big waves and deep ocean no matter what the pushback. We tell them to have fun and good luck when we hand them a smartphone or tablet/iPad without first educating, setting up the safety nets and holding their hand until they are ready to responsibly and safely use this mental health weapon we are exposing them to. The fact is they will become adults, and they live in the modern world, and they need to know how to use it with safety and kindness so education, education, education and as the saying goes everything in moderation, well not everything! More than likely if your teen is over 15 they have had some negative experience on social media youtube or online, I’ve been there but we are in this together, and we are here to help. (For how to educate, please see the digital awareness parent workshop).
Coping is everything. Life gets hard so how do we teach them to walk through a challenge instead of getting stuck in it? I recently watched an episode of Mad Men that hurt my heart. The little girl “Salley” receives the news while standing with her mom on her front porch that her grandfather who she was very close to passed away. No one even acknowledged her then shut the door on her face as she tried to seek comfort from her mother. When her teacher discusses with her mom the idea that she may be grieving her mom gets upset and says “she’s a child she’ll get over it.” This was set in the 1960’s, and I know many people in that same generation who felt the same way and have never healed from childhood trauma. Today we need to acknowledge the impact of life’s challenges and traumas on our children and help them to learn to cope and walk through. Kids are not resilient, they grieve too, and though they may be quiet about their pain, that does not mean they are fine, it often means they are internalizing and meditating on their pain only to have it fester and grow into a potentially destructive mental state. When a rumor is started about them and school then a boyfriend/ girlfriend breaks up with them, and they lose all their friends they turn to the digital world and find no comfort, instead, they are met with cruel strangers or applied cruelty from classmates and the emotions build and build to the point of no return.
Teens need us to understand that it’s different for them in 2018, they can be suffering in silence, and they need us to be an ever-present parent or youth worker in their lives.
Sadly almost all of our kids who are on social media have experienced cyberbullying and according to DigitalCitzenAcademy.com “30% of children have been bullied/cyberbullied have suicidal or self-harming thoughts.”
TEDx talk from
Digital Addiction and its impact on our kids.