Our children are back in school and for many, it’s a pressure cooker. Comparisons on their social media – about appearances, friends, classes, activities, you-name-it – ramp up this time of year.
For every positive feature of the Internet, a dangerous element lurks, too.
The brains of adolescents aren’t developed fully enough for them to make good choices and protect themselves from online bullies, predators or others who would harm them, intentionally or not.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, an opportunity to shed light on the once-taboo topic.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention teen suicide rates rose between 2010 and 2015 after declining for nearly two decades. It is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 15 to 24.
Approximately 36 students in the East Valley have died by suicide in the past two years. Sadly, teenagers aren’t the only ones plagued by the side effects of bullying: Nationally, as many as one in five elementary school children have reported being bullied.
If you have cultivated a close relationship with your child, you’ll notice immediately if things are not right.
Have his or her eating and sleeping habits changed? Has your child become increasingly isolated, not wanting to go to school, interact with friends or do other routine activities? Have their grades begun to slip?
Have you noticed any self-destructive behaviors or talking about death?
Potential red flags related to your child’s use of electronic device include:
Being secretive about online activities, abruptly changing screens or turning off their computer when an adult enters the room
Being obsessive about or becoming angry when online privileges are revoked is a tell-tale sign of bullying.
Other troublesome signs include, receiving or making phone calls to unknown people or texting with agitation
When it comes to monitoring children’s use of cell-phones and computers, parents often grapple with how much privacy they should give. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, because no child is the same. But these suggestions may help:
Discuss and establish clear rules before your child begins using a smartphone or computer. A good general rule to start is no use during school hours and two hours on school nights. Set a weeknight time for powering off all electronic devices in the home — yours, too!
Talk honestly about the benefits and perils of the Internet, the existence of bullies, sexual predators and other harmful people. Tell them it’s your job to protect them, and that you will periodically check their Facebook, Instagram and other sites to see their and others’ posts.
Check out a free app, unGlue, an Internet balance tool developed by two California dads who felt helpless about their kids’ online habits. You can use unGlue to turn off your child’s phone during school and at bedtime, to pause the Internet, even to schedule chore times.
Look on your child’s devices for apps such as TikTok, which enables them to create and share talent, and may expose them to cyberbullying and predators. Discuss the dangers of such apps, and delete them.
Communicate with your child’s teacher, because he or she may know best what’s happening with bullies.
First and foremost, strive every day to create and maintain a healthy, open relationship with your child where the lines of communication are wide open. Be consistent, be brave, be loving.
If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
- Dr. Courtney Gaines is a psychiatric mental health nurse at Terros Health, a nonprofit, integrated health care provider specializing in trauma-informed mental and physical health, and addiction recovery and wellness interventions.