There’s been a lot said over the past 24 hours about a live streamed suicide which ended up on multiple social media platforms and disturbingly was intentionally embedded into ‘innocent’ clips of dancing or kittens on TikTok. The result of this being that a large number of people including young teenagers have been exposed to a graphic suicide. By the time people were sharing the warnings on Facebook and news articles were being written about it, it was too late a lot of children had seen this. As parents hearing about this sets off a primal instinct to protect our children at all costs. Its tempting to want to remove phones / electronic devices or ban social media for the next 48 hours (or indefinitely) however given the hype that has been generated around this a more useful approach is likely to involve having some gentle, open and honest conversations with your child. Unfortunately banning things is almost like a red flag to a bull for teenagers and it makes them want to watch it more.
Dr Justin Coulson has released some very sage advice around this which is ‘be curious not furious’. He suggests having a careful conversation with your teen what have you heard, what have you seen, how are you feeling, how are your friends feeling? When they express their feelings, listen and validate them, let them know you are there for them and ask what they think they need as they manage these challenging feelings. You may be surprised if they say ‘oh it’s actually so hilarious’ or ‘I don’t get what the big deal is’ however that is how a lot of young people are reacting.There has become a level of social capital amongst those who ‘got to see it’ and ‘totally weren’t phased by it’. This is a great opportunity to meaningfully connect and model empathy to them. When we lecture or go on a rant about the perils of social media it drives our teens further away from us and prevents them from turning to us if they do start to experience distress from this. Instead encourage them to see the humanity in the situation and remind them this was a real person who was terribly sad and made a decision based on pain. It’s unlikely this is a one conversation and it’s over type issue, keep checking in with them every few days, look out for big changes in their personalities and seek further assistance if you have concerns. Reaching out to the school to see if they have support services available or arranging support with a psychologist may be necessary if this has caused significant ongoing distress for them.
If you think your young person needs to talk to someone immediately, remind them of Kids Helpline. 1800 55 1800. Phone support is there all day, every day. Online support is open from 8am-midnight every day (AEST).
If you need some immediate advice, hold significant concerns about your child’s mental health and live in WA the CAMHS Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS) provides phone and online video call support for children and young people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as support and advice to families and carers. The service is available between 8.00am and 2.30pm 7 days a week by calling 1800 048 636.