A Message from PACES Executive Director Clarice Podrebarac
As parents, we worry about our kids. It’s just what we do. We want our kids to be safe, healthy and happy. And we want to do what we can to protect our kids from potential harm. Sometimes, we have to make choices that – while unpopular with our kids – are important for their wellbeing. That includes monitoring their online activities.
Recently, the Kansas City Star published an article telling the stories of three people who ended their lives after visiting online suicide forums. Users on suicide forums post information about how a person can end their life. These sites are dangerous and they are legal. So far, thankfully, we have not seen any signs that would indicate widespread use of these sites among Wyandotte County youth. But we want to make sure parents know that sites like these exist.
Right now, our kids are in a particularly vulnerable state. After more than two years of upheaval and isolation, many young people are struggling with depression and anxiety. Online suicide forums prey on vulnerable people. It is important that parents know what their kids are doing online. But when it comes to monitoring our kids’ online activity, it is important that we aren’t doing it in secret. Have a conversation with your kids and let them know that you are going to check in on what they’re doing online. Remind them that you aren’t doing this because you don’t trust them. You are doing it because you care and want them to be safe.
If you are concerned that your child might have already found one of these sites, there are a few behaviors that you should look for. If your child suddenly becomes more secretive or always shuts down their phone activity when you walk into the room, that could be a sign that they are engaging in risky online behavior. Also, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their online purchases. As the Kansas City Star reported, these online suicide forums often point to using common chemicals as a way for someone to end their life. If you notice that your child has ordered something strange, have a conversation with them about it.
It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between “typical” teenage behavior and behaviors that could indicate a mental health challenge. If your child is struggling, they might not be ready or know how to tell you how they are feeling. That is why we, as parents, need to know the signs that our child might be experiencing a mental health challenge. And when our kids do open up to us, we need to listen to them and take what they say seriously. A little empathy can go a long way.
These can be challenging conversations to have. When possible, try to have these conversations without any distractions. Put down the phones, turn off the video games and just talk. If communication is a struggle, try having these conversations while doing an activity together – like cooking or shooting hoops. It can help to lighten the moment and provide a bit of a buffer.
If you and your child need support and resources, our team at PACES wants to help. We will work with you and your child to find a treatment plan that works for your family. To get started, call 913-563-6500.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 by calling 800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a crisis counselor.