Sunday, September 28, 2014

Discussions with my Daughter - Suicide

Discussions with my Daughter... Suicide 

As I sat in the airport a couple of weeks ago waiting for my delayed flight to Ohio, the following article caught my attention: 

Click HERE to read the article
The article starts: "Morgan Schmidt was a typical 12-year-old — an honor student with straight As, popular, fun-loving and beginning to show promise as a cross country runner. 
But when she began to be bullied through social media, the hurt became too much to bear. The Pleasant Valley Junior High student took her own life on April 6."
My heart sank. 12.  She was 12 years old. I wished more than anything that I could go straight home and hold my daughter, 11, as tightly as possible and never let her go.  My heart ached as I grieved for this family who has taken the loss of their daughter and turned it into a mission of kindness. I admire their strength and understand their passion yet can't even begin to imagine how they make it through each day. Each hour. Each minute.

I wonder about the students who bullied her.  And their parents.  Has anything changed? Do they feel responsible?  Do they care? Do they even know?  Many of the comments were anonymous and fake accounts happen all of the time, which makes me wonder - why aren't parents monitoring what their children are doing on social media?  Or through texts?  
We have reached a time where access to social media sites is available to anyone and while some use it respectively, others have found it as the perfect excuse to spew hatred which can be seen in the comments of the article I posted above. 
It's inexcusable  yet nothing is done to stop it. It's so simple for someone to hide behind a computer, especially under a fake name and lash out at others. Comments that would likely never be said in person to someone, comments that should not be typed out either. And while I understand Freedom of Speech and the right to disagree and have your own opinion - I also believe in respect. If you can't respectfully make your point without attacking or belittling someone - odds are you point is not valid to begin with.
My daughter, who is just days away from turning 12 now, asked late this summer if she could join Instagram as many of her friends are on there. It was hard not to let her see the fear in my face as my stomach turned in worry over what she could potentially be exposed to. I also understood her desire to fit in and respected that she came to me instead of just doing it. Allison has a heart of gold and like her mom, wears her heart on her sleeve. We talked it through together and after putting some guidelines in place, we opened her account together.  An account I watch like a hawk.

The article remained on my mind throughout my weekend away for work.  Naively, I didn't even realize that 12 year olds committed suicide or would know how. Maybe I've unconsciously sheltered myself from this. Whatever the reason, I was now very aware of this possibility. I knew it was something I needed to discuss with Allison. I have no doubt that Morgan's family told her daily how much she was loved and how important she was.  It didn't change the outcome. I was not sure what more I can do, so it led to a conversation I never dreamed I'd have with my daughter.

The day I returned home, after Parker went to bed, I crawled into bed with Allison.  We talked about our weekends and then I said, "can we talk about something else"?  She was more than happy to keep talking.  As tears welled up in my eyes my mind raced with what to say, the tone of our talk had changed as I could see her concern as she noticed the tears filling my eyes. She reached over and grabbed my hand, I said, "We talk about everything, me and you, and that is so important to me. I love that we can talk about anything even those things that are hard to discuss."  Her eyes started to fill with tears as worry set in, I continued on.. "I know last year was difficult for you at school and I know you've had some instances this year where people haven't been the nicest... I need to know - honestly - has there ever been a time when your feelings have been hurt so much that you thought you would be better if you were not here?"

I could see the confusion on her face so I kept talking... "Has there ever been a time when you thought about suicide?"

She was taken off guard that I had asked. "No way mom, I wouldn't do that!"  As I breathed a sigh of relief, I realized she was trying to comfort me as much as anything. I also know she's not yet 12 and has a long road ahead of her, this was a discussion we needed to have. I had the article pulled up on my phone, I showed it to her and said, "There was a little girl close to your age named Morgan, last spring she committed suicide.  She was being bullied."  We discussed how beautiful she was, what she could have done, who she could have talked to and all that she had to live for.  All things I am sure Morgan's parents had also discussed with her over time. I needed more.

It is so hard for me to imagine that being a conversation at 11 or 12 yet it is and it's happening. This wasn't an isolated incident with Morgan, the reality is that the suicide attempt rate is increasing for youths ages 10-14. 
I asked if any of her friends had ever talked about suicide and reminded her that I would always be there to help not just her but her friends through any situation they felt they couldn't talk to their parents about.  
I told her how much this scared me.  How much it scares me to know that people her age are committing suicide.  That bullies are winning and people are so hurt that they feel there is no way out.  We talked about making mistakes and learning from them. We talked about ways to help our friends and people we can talk to.
We talked for over an hour on a subject I never ever thought we would be discussing, especially when she was 11.  Yet, we had to and I'm glad we did. It's a conversation I know we will have again as I always want her to know we can talk about anything. 
There has to be a place where a line is drawn. There are social media sites that are simply not safe for children or young adults, sites that are open market for people to attack and are harder to monitor than those that are more public. This needs to stop. As a society, we need to put our foot down, not just with these sites but with the negative comments all together.
I am a huge fan of social media, it is extremely important in the work that I do and for my connection to family and friends from all over the world. I also see the dangers and drawbacks. It's not always a safe environment, allowing not only bullying but for unsuspecting victims to be targeted. It doesn't stop with the social media sites, as I mentioned - look through the comments on the article I posted. Absolutely uncalled for, looking for attention negativity and hatred that needs to be stopped. Guidelines need to not only be in place but strongly enforced. We need to take a step back in our lives, in time to the very basic rule of "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all".  As silly and simplistic as it seems, it's true.
We can't make our world a better place when we allow such negativity to fill every place we look.  Sites need to be monitored. Abuse needs to be reported and removed. It should get to just be accepted or expected.
Kindness needs to be rewarded, highlighted and made to stand out. The feel good stories that get buried under the negativity need to stand out. There are many in this world making a difference, we need to make that number grow.  We need to raise children who are compassionate, respectful and kind.
And KIND. I never in a million years would have dreamed I would have spent so much of my life trying to teach others to be kind. Why is that not a core value and expected responsibility for everyone?  It really should be. 
Suicide is not an easy discussion. Not at any age and especially not with your child. Please don't think it could never happen to you, that your child would never consider or carry out such actions. It happens. Know what is going on in your child's life. Monitor their social media sites, texts, and friends. Be involved. And never stop talking to them. Don't let any topic be off limits. 
As hard as it was to talk to Allison about suicide, it pales in comparison to what Morgan's parents go through every day without their daughter here on Earth with them. Keep the conversation going.

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