Whispering Thoughts of Suicide
The smartphones kids carry around in their pockets are powerful devices. They can help students study, access helpful resources, travel safely, and much more.
Sadly, sometimes smartphones are also the tool kids use to communicate “under the radar.”
Every time I hear a “horror story” about smartphones, the phone is never the culprit. It’s the fact that Mom and Dad had no idea what their kid was doing with the phone.
Our nation has been watching the unfolding drama surrounding the suicide of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III of Massachusetts that took place in July of 2014. What makes this story of self-destruction so unique? Some argue – with good cause – that the suicide was only partially self-inflicted. He seemed to have lots of “help” from his girlfriend at the time, then 17-year-old Michelle Carter.
Throughout the criminal investigation and ensuing trial, it was discovered that Carter was sending her boyfriend text messages that not only encouraged him to commit suicide, but also gave him ideas for how to do it. Here are just a few that were entered into the official record:
You’re finally going to be happy in Heaven. No more pain. No more bad thoughts and worries. You’ll be free.
If you emit 32-hundred PPM of [carbon monoxide] for five or ten minutes, you will die within a half hour.
She also had an answer for how Conrad’s parents would handle his death:
I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place…. I think they will understand and accept it.
It was even alleged that Michelle was on the phone with the young man while he was ingesting the fumes, talked him back into his truck after he became scared and got out, and then stayed on the phone with him until he died. For many long months, Carter has found herself at the epicenter of a criminal investigation and trial to determine her culpability. On August 3rd, she was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but will remain free pending appeals.
This young man was obviously already struggling, and his smartphone certainly isn’t to blame. But in a world where young people are searching for answers and for connection… the smartphone is usually the tool they grab to find it.
Who are your kids reaching out to when they are in crisis?
Who are they connecting to on their devices?
What advice are they getting? Is there a Michelle whispering in their ear?
Netflix’s original program 13 Reasons Why certainly has resonated with young people this year, and experts still can’t seem to decide whether or not the show provokes healthy conversations, or glamourizes suicide. But one thing the show successfully provided was a very accurate view of the struggles today’s young people experience, and how technology is only catalyzing and amplifying those struggles.
As parents and youth workers, we need to proactively be a voice of counsel in their ears, and more importantly, an ear of counsel to a generation who are desperately desiring to be noticed and liked. This means helping our kids know the right place to turn during tragedy. This is more than just attempting to block out the “bad influences.” We need to teach them where to glean “good influences.”
Here are a couple helpful ideas:
- Keep the conversation open. It’s hard to keep up with the latest technology our kids are accessing. The best way to this is to keep the conversation open. Ask your teenager their favorite song, their favorite app, or their favorite game. Make it creative, like the first question in Get Your Teenager Talking, “If you could text anyone in the world and you know they’d text you back, who would you text? What would you say? What would you hope they’d reply?”
- Stay informed. Read articles like the one you’re reading right now, or if you want to get a bit more academic, you can read great reports like this one from Dr. Jean M. Twenge about how smartphones have impacted everything in kids’ lives from dating, to driving, to sleeping, and so much more. You don’t have to get a doctorate degree in technology; you just can’t be a dropout.
- Point to truth. Again, don’t be so focused on blocking lies that you neglect pointing to truth. Take your kids through God’s word. Give them resources that teach spiritual truth. Don’t just hand them resources, disciple them.
- Don’t be afraid to address dangers. One of the best ways we can intercept trouble is by giving our kids a heads up…and that can be accomplished through frequent, give-and-take discussions. We don’t have to lecture them and we don’t have to exaggerate to get our point across. We just need to keep up the dialogue to let them know we care. Use helpful tools like the upcoming The Teens Guide to Social Media… and Mobile Devices that not only stimulates kids to think before they post, but also provides discussion questions providing talking points for parents and mentors about this important subject.
Where are your kids turning for counsel?
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.