Young people and social media: How to support them if they see distressing contact

A disturbing video clip being shared online prompted Adrienne Acton to look for advice on how to talk to young people about what they might be seeing on social media. 
Young people and social media: How to support them if they see distressing contact

With increased exposure to videos and content online, Pieta House say it is likely that young people will see something online which upsets them.

A VIDEO clip of a gentleman taking his own life has recently been circulating among Cork students via social media.

This distressing piece of footage is easily obtained and is causing untold upset.

With this in mind the clinical team at Pieta House answered questions about the footage and offered advice and guidance for concerned parents.

Why would anyone put this online in first place?

What is their rationale? It’s difficult to comment on someone’s rationale for posting such a video when they are in crisis.

We do know, however, that when people are experiencing suicidal ideation, they are at their lowest ebb.

When someone is in crisis they are not thinking in a rational way, and this can be challenging also for those who are trying to support them.

How does a child deal with this once they have been exposed to such a video?

Seeing videos like this is, of course, traumatic. This is the case for adults, and it can be especially difficult for a child to process.

It’s important for the child to know that they are supported; that their parents are there for them and they can come and talk if they are struggling.

Parents know their children better than anyone and parents should look out for changes in their child’s behaviour.
Parents know their children better than anyone and parents should look out for changes in their child’s behaviour.

Often, an individual believes that they personally have processed events but, over time, an individual’s feelings about a particular event may change and they may not realise the impact it’s had on them.

Parents know their children better than anyone and parents should look out for changes in their child’s behaviour. For example, are they anxious? Withdrawn? Has their sleeping or appetite changed? These can be signs of distress and it’s important you trust yourself and recognise these changes in their behaviour.

How should a parent talk to their children about this?

Talking to your child about such an experience may feel difficult, daunting, and scary – and you may be worried about saying the wrong thing or making the situation worse.

These concerns are completely understandable and normal. It’s important where possible, to be prepared for situations like this when they arise.

With increased exposure to videos and content online, it’s likely that they will see something online which upsets them.

Let them know that when this happens, they can come to you and talk. Often children may be wary of telling a parent about online content as they fear getting into trouble or losing access to their devices.

If your child has been exposed to distressing online content, take time to talk with them about how this has made them feel. Be calm, supportive, and gentle, try to get them to open up and talk as this can help them process what they have seen. This may be when an opportunity presents itself or something that you put aside time for. Acknowledge that it’s a difficult thing to see and that it might affect them even if they don’t realise it. Furthermore, let them know that if it does affect them, they can come to you for support at any time. You are always there for them.

Signs of distress

When you notice there is something not right with your child, we recommend that you don’t wait for them to come to you, it’s important that you take the initiative and go to them.

Try to remain calm, alert and be prepared to ask questions and listen carefully to what your child says. You might start by saying, “You don’t seem yourself” or “I have noticed you’re not yourself today”. Follow up with “I’m open to talking about this, because I love you and I care what happens to you.”

What should a parent do if they fear their child is suicidal?

If you think your child might be suicidal, talk with them about it, ask them about suicidal thoughts. A child who is thinking about suicide often feels very alone with their thoughts.

Being able to share their worries may reduce their feeling of isolation and giving them a chance to talk can help. Sometimes people are afraid that if they talk about it, that it will make suicidal thoughts more real, and suicide more likely to happen.

But the truth is that if a child feels that she/he has someone safe in the family whom they can speak with, they do feel better. They feel more understood. They feel like there’s more empathy and support available to them.

Being direct lets your child know that it’s okay to talk about it; that you want them to tell you; and that you are someone they can talk to. Stay in touch. Know where your child is and who they are with and what they are accessing online if possible.

Know who your child’s friends and online friends, are. It’s good to know about their friends and have a connection with them. Get to know the parents of your child’s friends and be in touch with them also, in case you need to reach out.

Keep in touch with the school, as the school can be very supportive if you have concerns.

Of course, if you’re worried that your child will attempt suicide, you need to call emergency services. Contact your GP or take your child to A&E if you feel there is an immediate risk.

To best support their children, parents need support and to look after themselves. The parents need to engage with other parents in their circle of friends some of whom are likely experiencing similar issues for support.

Is there info online that parents can use?

Visit Pieta.ie for information on our ‘Signs of Suicide’ campaign.

Also, the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) has produced a helpful booklet outlining how social media content that promotes suicide or self-harm, can be harmful, and how to report it. It is available at HealthPromotion.ie

  • Pieta Helpline: 1800 247 247 Pieta Text: HELP 51444

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