At the surface, the images in this slideshow may look like a creative expression of teen angst. But psychotherapist and parenting expert Stacy Kaiser calls them “an epidemic in social media.”
In this public cry for attention and help, the teens let the cue cards communicate for them. “It’s less scary, because you don’t have to speak; you can hide behind the cards. It feels safer to get your point across. It’s more dramatic,” Kaiser said.
The videos have come to the forefront recently with the suicide of Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who uploaded a video of herself detailing how bullying led to low-self esteem and self-harm. YouTube has several pages' worth of such clips, many of them from troubled teenagers.
The videos are often labeled “My Story,” and they are raising alarm among parents. Kaiser says this is one of the many reasons why parents must keep a close watch on their child’s social media accounts.
“Social media is a luxury item,” she says. “I believe there is no privacy while you are under my roof.”
Kaiser keeps tabs on her teens’ online lives by friending them on Facebook and Twitter. She also has the passwords to their accounts.
“It’s for their protection,” she says. “That’s the clarification parents need to make. I’m not trying to see who’s going to the party or what all your friends’ comments were about your lunch. I want your password because if there’s anything I’m worried about, I need to be able to check.”
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For parents unable to monitor their child’s social media accounts, there are other outward signs to watch for. Kaiser says to look for changes in behavior, friends and personality.
“Listen to your instincts,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many times things go wrong and parents say, ‘I didn’t have a good feeling about this.’ If you don’t have a good feeling, you need to listen. Get expert help.”
And if parents do discover their child has posted a cry for help, Kaiser says they need to take the time to talk to their child and seek expert help. “You don’t want to deal with the consequences if you don’t.”
Parents can also talk to their children about helping their friends. “In the preteen and teen years, friendships become really solid and important. It’s the time when the kids are moving away from parents and turning to friends for support and advice.”
If your teen sees their friend post a worrisome comment on social media, have them reach out and connect in real life, Kaiser says. “Don’t just comment on a page and tweet back. Sit down and have a conversation with a friend who is suffering. And if it is something intense, like bullying, suicide, drugs, loop in a trusted adult.”
“It’s not for you to decide if it’s serious or real,” she says. “If someone is putting it out there, it’s significant.”