Ashley Duncan’s death occurred two-years ago, and it still touches my heart. The increase of teen suicides and the public way they detail their lives and ultimate death via social media, inspired me to share this story. My intention is to continue sharing stories and online safety tips as a way of honoring our children, empowering parents, and activating our village to help us all keep our children safe online and use social media responsibly.
17-year-old Houston native, Ashley Duncan committed suicide after leaving posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. The last post made references to suicide along with a photo of a gun and shortly thereafter, she reportedly shot herself. According to her peers, Ashley was very outgoing and popular with hundreds of friends and followers on her social media outlets.
Evidently, Ashley was experiencing a relationship break-up which lead her to posting the following on her Tumblr Page: “Life ain’t worth the pain. if you know or have known what it feels like to want to die every minute second hour day week month year then you feel me…. I might not struggle financially but I struggle emotionally and mentally and I think that’s the worst struggle.” “So in asking why can’t it be my choice to die now? … I’m miserable. One day I won’t be here anymore and that’ll be the happiest day of my life… I’m tired and I’m done with this life.
Although her friends saw the posts, they thought she was joking. One of Ashley’s friends stated, “A lot of times, people do have that one final outburst of a call for help.” “In the olden days, you had to talk face to face. Now we have this wall of protection called the Internet and I think it’s easier for people to release their feelings.” “
I wish I could say that stories like Ashley’s are on the decline, but they are not. I recently wrote an article and attended the funeral service of Billy D. Watts, Jr., whose story touched me to my core. Below you will find the tips and advice I offered to teens and parents, as we all move towards healing and ultimately saving another life.
RIP Billy and Ashley, we will not forget you.
1. Do you know what’s going on emotionally with your child offline, in the real world? What’s their state of mind? Are they acting differently? Have they experienced a major life event? Break-ups, low test scores, not being invited to an event, not making a sports team, feeling fat, feeling like they don’t fit in are sometimes major life events for teens. Ask the questions, get in their business. Your child might find your conversations annoying, however some teens are simply looking for the opportunity to talk about the ups and downs of their day.
2. Get in their business. Your child may not share their feelings with you, but more than likely they will share them online. If your child is on Facebook, you should consider being on Facebook. If they are tweeting, you should consider joining twitter. What photos are they posting on Instagram? You should know. It is imperative for parents to be active participants in their children’s online lives. Not to scare you, but their lives could depend on it.
3. Activate your social media village. I get it, some parents don’t want to engage in social media or feel as if they are spying on their children. This is where you get creative and ask for help from your friends, family, sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, church members, etc. For example my daughter is active on two social media sites, but I only follow her on one. My niece, who is much more hip follows her and interacts with her on the other social media outlet. This gives my daughter a sense of freedom, while I still have my “eye on the prize,” through my niece.
4. Talk, Talk, and Talk again. Never underestimate the power of communication. Share stories like Billy’s with your child and discuss what they would do if they saw a friend crying out for help. Tell them that their lives are worth living, empower them to love themselves, let them know that you love them, hug them, let them know your proud of them, talk about expectations and consequences. Don’t wait for the perfect time to speak with a child, as there is no such thing as the “perfect time.” Do it over dinner, on the drive home, at the end of the day, on the way to practice…Just do it.
5. Do not blame yourself or others. If you have not been keeping an eye on your child’s online activities for whatever reason; forgive yourself, breathe, stop beating yourself up, and most importantly let’s not judge anyone else as this does not serve any purpose and takes away from what’s important which is, honoring Billy’s life, helping his family, friends, and peers heal, and showing our children that their lives matter. I’ve had way too many conversations with parents who are feeling overwhelmed, wondering if they are missing something, or if they are doing the right things. HEY… As parents we are all doing our best, we are doing what we know to do. Think about it: How many things did you do as a teen that your parents still don’t know about? We are not going to catch everything and that’s OK. This is where we truly become a village of love and care, and act “as if” every child is ours! This is how we help one another out. SO…no more judgements about yourself or others. All of our babies matter, and we are in this together.
1. Your life is valuable…and you are loved. Please know that there is nothing so horrible, that warrants you taking your life. Ever heard of that passage, “This too shall pass?” Whatever it is that makes you feel that life is not worth living, is a LIE! Whatever it is cannot last forever, it’s just something you’re feeling right now. Your problems do not define you, they are merely a temporary thing. You are worth it, the world needs you, you are loved and you are never alone. Think you can’t talk to anyone, no I don’t know you personally, but if you feel as if you can’t talk to anyone, try me….
2. Handling cries for help. First I want you to forgive yourself if you saw a friend crying out for help on Social Media and you couldn’t help them. Your friends actions are NOT your fault and often times there’s so much more to the story. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Moving forward, when you see troubling posts such as, “I feel alone,” “I want to die,” “I have nothing to live for,” “No one cares,” etc., take them seriously. Call the friend that’s in distress, alert other friends, If you don’t know the person, go ahead and find mutual friends and alert them, contact a family member, or reach out to school officials. No, it’s not snitching, it’s not being nosy… it’s actually a very caring and loving act, which could save a life.
3. Create a pact with your friends. The pact simply should state, “You are not allowed to take your own life. When things are rough, suicide is not an option. We are your friends, we care about you, and there’s nothing you can’t share with us. We have your back, we will see you through this. Promise that you will call your friends first and we will be here for you.
4. Be the one. If there’s a classmate who is different, dresses differently, looks different, talks different, I challenge you to be the one to get to know them. If you see someone being teased, talked about or bullied, I challenge you to be the one to speak up. If you see someone who is always alone, I challenge you to invite them into your group. YOU have the power to change the dialogue.
Marlin Page, “Chief Technology Mommy,” serves as an Online Safety Evangelist exposing “real life” internet and social media stories impacting children around the world and providing practical tips to empower parents to keep their children safe on the Internet while encouraging teens to use social media responsibly. Marlin is a Globetrotting Speaker, Founder of Sisters Code, STEM Advocate, and thought leader on bridging the racial and gender gap in technology and eliminating the digital divide. Marlin’s book and music CD, “Always Believe,” empowers girls to love themselves, believe in themselves, and celebrate their uniqueness. Also known as the “Excuse Annihilator”, Marlin created the “No Excuses Movement” line of T-Shirts.
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