Talking to Kids about Suicide (without even saying the word)

Can we talk for a moment about teen suicide? It’s the 2nd leading cause of death in kids ages 10-24 (Source: National Vital Statistics Report, 2014).

You can have preventive conversations with your kids about suicide without ever using the word “suicide” or describing it in detail. Even in elementary school. The goal is to prevent the thought of suicide from ever becoming an option your child considers.

Suicide

Here are some key points I speak into my kids on a regular basis:

1. You’re not trapped at your school. If you’re being made fun of, bullied, etc., it’s important for you to tell me. We can try to resolve the issue together. If we can’t get it resolved, we can look at other school options — private, public, homeschool, magnet, charter school, etc. You’re not stuck there.

2. God has a specific plan for YOUR life. If you are breathing, God has a plan. See Jeremiah 29:11-13.

3. I love you, no matter what. Even if you make a bad choice or choose something I totally disagree with. In fact, you will make mistakes. Life is about learning and growing from those bad choices. I love you regardless. Talk to me when you make mistakes, and we’ll work through it together.

4. The things you struggle with — Satan wants you to keep those hidden. That’s where he can manipulate you. Do not ever suffer in silence. When you are struggling, hurting, doubting, questioning, that is the time to talk with me. Then we can go to the Bible together and find answers, hope and peace. God can change any situation. He can heal, forgive, make new, change hearts — there is always hope. God is so powerful, He can actually even take your mistakes and use them for good!! To help others who are making those same bad choices. See Deuteronomy 23:5 (Curse into Blessing).

5. God created you. You are a masterpiece. He knit you together in the womb. Do not ever let anyone tell you that you don’t have value. God gives you value, not people. You do not find your worth in likes, followers or anything else. See Psalm 139:13.

What would you add to this list?

If you need more resources: Check out our free podcast. Go to iTunes or Soundcloud and search “nextTalk.” I also have a whole chapter on suicide in my book. You can read the intro for free here.

A Threesome in an App Rated 9+. What?

Last month, my then 9yo son was playing a 9+ app — a cool little bunny app called “Bunny Evolution.” I can find nothing inappropriate with the game, and there is no connectivity to other players which makes it an ideal app for younger kids.

However, as my little boy was playing the harmless bunny app, these ads popped up for another app called, “Choices.”

As you can see from the top picture, a girl’s boyfriend is cheating on her with another man. One of the options is to join them for a threesome. Join them?!?!

Parent alert: Ads can pop-up in games and are not restricted to the same age category as the app your child is playing.

Here is a description of the “Choices” app:

Parent alert: Age ratings are sometimes incorrect. The Choices app (which have these scenarios) are rated 12+. I’m sorry, no. In my opinion, that’s not appropriate for a 6th or 7th grader. Not even close

I know a post like this can raise a lot of fear in parents. Trust me, I’ve tried to bubble-wrap my kids. I’ve tried to say “no” to all technology. It didn’t work. My kids were still exposed to things from other kids. But, please don’t panic. I’ve found the solution is to create a culture of open communication in our homes. It sounds so simple, but the process of getting our kids to tell us what they’re really seeing and hearing online is a complicated process. I wrote a whole book about it. You can read the intro for free by clicking here.

By the way, my son reported all of this to me immediately. I told him, “I’m so proud of you for telling me and protecting your own heart and mind.” I’m not going to punish him and take away technology when he did everything right.

Do you have a similar story about ads in apps? If you do, please leave a comment and screenshots, if you have them.

Cyberparenting has blindsided all of us. We need to work together. Connect with us at nextTalk, a nonprofit organization providing practical solutions on how to keep our kids safe online.

Mom Confession: My Kid’s Attitude is My Fault

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a certain sass in one of my kids. I told my husband about the situation and how I was worried about the attitude. He politely and calmly said, “Honey, I don’t think that’s sass. I think it’s tone. It sounds like you.”

I wanted to go ballistic. Crazy wife mode was imminent!

Thankfully, I’ve learned to control what I say on this journey and did not respond with the first influx of feelings. I refrained. I was ticked off, though. Defensive in my head. I felt like he had no idea how much I was juggling. I actually thought, “Even if I have tone, cut me some slack!”

A couple days later, I was still internally struggling with that conversation. TBH, reeling. Anger building in my head that would explode, if left unchecked.

I had to stop the unhealthy cycle. It was time to pause and pray. I said something like this, “God, please show me the tone, if I actually have it.”

(Don’t you love the “if I actually have it” line I added to that prayer? So humanlike. So me.)

After that prayer, it was like my blinders were taken off. I could see myself clearly, and it hurt. There were multiple times when I was talking to my children, and I witnessed the unflattering tone he had been referring to. It wasn’t yelling. It wasn’t anger. It was condescending and downright rude.

Oh, it hurts to write that. Deeply.

One day, I asked my son to roll down the window when we were parked in the driveway so I could give him something. He opened the door (and nearly hit me in the gut at the same time). I didn’t yell, but I responded with the tone. I didn’t call him stupid, but my tone implied it. I saw the hurt in his eyes.

Hours later, I apologized to my son.

There have been more instances with both my teen daughter and my husband. I’ll spare you the details, but it became very apparent to me — I have a problem with tone. And, I’m passing it onto my children.

I became emotional telling my husband that God had clearly shown me a fault I needed to fix. Fighting back the tears, I said, “I can’t believe you’ve had to live with this for twenty years, and you’ve never pointed it out to me.”

He said, “You’re worth it. Besides, I’m working on my own faults.”

Was that it? A recognition of a fault and then I fixed it? I wish it were that simple.

I’m still struggling with tone. It is so difficult to break a habit that you didn’t even realize you had. It’s THAT engrained in my personality.

Can we just stop right here?

Old Me would’ve swept this under the rug and chalked it up to “It’s just who I am.”

New Me can’t because I know the stakes are too high.

You see, if I don’t change this flaw, it creates walls in my relationships.

I want my kids to tell me everything they’re seeing and hearing in their online worlds. No time in history is the relationship between parent and child so important. Remember when I wrote in my book, “God showed me that if I wanted my whole family dynamic to change, it was going to require me to look in the mirror.”

This is yet another example of what that looks like. It stings.

I need to be able to identify my flaws and fix them. Or else, I pass them onto my kids.

Flaws can be little things or HUGE things — bad spending habits, tone, addiction, cussing, unhealthy relationships, RACISM. What bad things are you passing onto your kids?

This. is. important.

We must be able to recognize cycles or patterns we’ve picked up that need to change. Many of us (me!) don’t want to change because it requires hard work.

You may not want to do the hard work for yourself. I’m asking you do it for your kids.

One evening during dinner, I told my kids that I recognized my condescending tone. I was vulnerable. Open and honest. They knew it truly bothered me. I let them in on my struggle, and I asked them to hold me accountable.

Guess what happened? My kids followed my lead and recognized things they needed to work on too! Do you see how this works?

Kids model us. They watch. They listen. They repeat. Even the flaws.

Since then, it’s been tough. I cringe when my kids point out the tone. I’m thankful for my husband. The other day, I had to put on my disciplinarian face because my kids weren’t doing what I asked (we are all ready for school to start). I didn’t yell, but I had to be stern. My husband later told me, “You disciplined without tone. That was perfect!”

And I completely recognized the difference.

So my challenge to you is: what are you passing down to your kids that you don’t want to? Now’s the time to face it and put in the hard work. Your kids are worth it. And always know, I’m facing my own things right along with you. In it, together.

 

Blue Whale Challenge: Online Game Leading to Suicide?

Before we go into panic mode, let’s breathe. Our first response cannot be fear and emotion. Remember: remain calm.

First, I want to give you the background and context from where this post is coming from. I want to share some research we’ve been conducting at our nonprofit (nextTalk) on this challenge.

This was first brought to our attention last month. This is the article we received claiming this “game” had led to an increase in teen suicides:

Parents Warned in the UK about New Suicide Game

Our team went to work researching and talking with local parents to see if they’d heard of the game. We researched on Snopes, and even though it was marked as “Unproven” there were details given to explain where the game originated and details about how it works. You can review the Snopes article by clicking here. In my interpretation and opinion, Snopes can’t prove that the game has actually led to an increase in suicides, but they can confirm the game (and games like it) do exist.

We didn’t share last month because we could find no substantiated claims in the U.S. However, now there is breaking news reports that this game has surfaced in Alabama.

Due to this new development, we decided to post applicable links on our nextTalk FB page last night.

Before we move on, I want to cover one point. It was reported with the Alabama story that there is an app to download. We cannot find an app. I have my suspicions that it was reported incorrectly. We know the pattern. Kids communicate within apps. We are likely to find secret challenges such as these in closed groups, group snaps (which automatically disappear but can be screenshot), DMs (direct messages), etc. That’s why monitoring text messages doesn’t work anymore. It’s important to note that most people, including myself, don’t intentionally communicate within apps to hide things, it’s just the new way of talking. For example, I love Snapchat because it doesn’t take up all my storage!

Back to the Blue Whale Game. How did I address it with my teen? Because we continually talk about everything (including stuff in the online world), we had a simple conversation on the way to school:

Me: “Hey, have you heard about this blue whale challenge?”
Teen: “Nope. What’s it about?”
Me: “Well, a person asks you to complete tasks. They may start out as simple requests like listening to a song or posting a weird picture, but there are reports that it turns into self-harming and then the ultimate challenge is suicide.”
Teen: “Sounds a lot like the grooming we talk about.”
Me:  “Yes. Good comparison. Whether this challenge becomes widespread or not or is even true, the key here is to never be manipulated or controlled by someone, especially online.”

If parents get ahead of this sick challenge, it’s likely kids won’t think it’s cool. They’ll move on to something else. So, this post is not just about this game. Whether it becomes a twisted trend, disappears quickly or is even a complete hoax, we need to look at the bigger picture. No matter what fad is happening right now, parenting has changed. “13 Reasons Why” was yesterday. Today is the “Blue Whale” challenge. Tomorrow, it will be something else.

This is not about parenting one app, game or issue. This is an opportunity to build open communication with our kids so they won’t fall prey to online manipulation.

How does my teen even know about “grooming?” We continually talk about it. This relationship didn’t naturally happen. After many mistakes, I realized I needed to be very intentional and proactive about building a safe place for her.  We started way before she had her own phone.

For example, we discuss how online predators groom their victims. They are patient and nice. They give gifts. They are the “secret online pal.” They sometimes meet up with the child & do nothing. They know how to build trust. When parents find out about the relationship, the parents are rightfully upset. Then, there is the perfect set-up for the predator to swoop-in & tell the child “Your parents are so mean. But, you’ve got me. I’m the only one in your corner. I’m the only one who understands.” And then, the parents are the bad guys. When the young innocent child feels safe with the predator, they often run away together. Manipulate them. Use them for sex trafficking. Now, we’re seeing coercion into cutting and suicide. Online manipulation has many forms.

This is dark. It is happening all around us to good kids with loving parents. Our kids are being manipulated by evil. Sometimes, these convos are happening on their devices as they’re sitting right next to us on the family sectional!

Right about now, you may be feeling sick to your stomach … How in the world do I keep up with all this? Every day, there’s something else in the online world that I need to talk to my kids about.

First of all, you are not alone. Cyberparenting has blindsided all of us. We’re the first generation of parents to deal with this. We can’t call our parents and ask advice on how to handle the digital world. Everything is happening faster. Questions are coming earlier from our kids. All because of online exposure and the rapidly-changing technology at our fingertips. There is a shift in parenting we must recognize. Once I recognized it, I thought, Okay, I understand. But, how do I parent it?

Here’s what I can tell you. There is absolutely no way to keep up with every app, challenge, DM, snap, etc. It is impossible. So, what is the answer? The first line of defense is the relationship with your child. A healthy, ongoing dialogue. Know your child. Once you build that foundation of trust, there is no more fear about what they are seeing and hearing … because they will ask you.

When I had my lightbulb moment four years ago, I realized I had totally missed it. Our relationship was good, but we were not talking about the online world. I cover our story and give details about how we turned things around in my newly released book, TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication. In fact, I specifically address four things you need to discuss with your children before they get social media in Chapter 10. One of these topics is cyberstrangers. This conversation needs to start early.

Talk before they get a phone. With my youngest, he is nine and does not have a phone. But, we do have a family iPad. He’s into gaming. So, we talk about “chat features” in gaming and how we don’t communicate with strangers. They could lie and say they’re 9 or 10, but could actually be a 60-year-old bad guy. I talk casually over meals, in the car, etc. so I don’t create anxiety or fear, but bring awareness to this danger. I roleplay with him on how to respond if a stranger reaches out to him in a game. We have a family guideline that all account names have to be fake. No real names. I specifically tell him, “Don’t tell anyone where you go to school, where we live, your real name, etc.”

Explain the dangers of cyberstrangers. One thing we always say to our kids, “You wouldn’t open the front door of our house to a stranger without mom or dad so do not talk, text, comment, snap, DM or otherwise communicate with a stranger online.” We never know the intention of the person behind the screen. Always take precaution.

Remain calm. When your child shows you anything inappropriate s/he sees online (like pornography), it’s important to be calm. A crazy-mom response that I’ve been guilty of is, “No more technology. Delete that app.” That creates a wall in the relationship. Then, the child wants to report nothing because they don’t want to lose technology. Instead, I’ve learned to respond with, “I’m so proud of you for telling me. Let’s talk about this.” (I have a whole pornography chapter too!) FYI, my teen daughter has been contacted multiple times by strangers trying to communicate. When she reports that to me, I’ve learned to always respond with, “Wow. I’m so proud of you. This is what I’m talking about. I can trust you to navigate yourself through the online world because you’re prepared.”

Don’t get overwhelmed. I want to end with this. We are in this together. Let’s not be overwhelmed. Instead, let’s pour time and energy to build the foundation for open communication with our kids. Then, and only then, we will have nothing to fear online because we’re talking about everything.

We are all struggling. I promise, you are not alone. Our nonprofit is continually providing updated resources for you on this cyberparenting journey. We just launched nextTalk Radio last week. If you’re in San Antonio, tune in to AM630 every Saturday morning at 10a. My co-host, Kim Elerick and I will be discussing all the things we’re struggling with today. If you’re not in San Antonio, podcasts will be coming soon on our website. Stay tuned!

Talking to Kids about Livestream Violence

We need to talk about the threat of our kids becoming desensitized to livestream violence.

This past Sunday, a man livestreamed a cold-blooded murder he committed against a stranger. It’s been reported that the innocent victim was walking home from an Easter celebration with his family. The killer has since been found, he killed himself. I watched some of the livestream video of the killing — it was chilling. The kind of chilling where I haven’t been able to sleep after seeing that sweet man’s face. I can’t even imagine the grief of the family. Out of respect for their privacy, I am not sharing the video link here.

On March 19, 2017, there was a gang rape of a 15-year-old girl livestreamed on Facebook. Pause right there and reread that. It really happened. Can you imagine the trauma of this young girl and her family? You can click here for an article with additional information.

My prayers go to these victims and their families. I can’t imagine either scenario. Surreal.

Parents. It is difficult for us to process these things as they are livestreamed. Our kids are growing up in an online world where this is becoming normal. We can’t EVER let this be normalized! What can we do as parents?

We must, must TALK to our kids about having their guard up. Livestreamed violence can desensitize our children to the fact that real people with real feelings are involved. (That’s a direct quote from my book where I talk about desensitization as being one of the four main things we need to cover with our kids before implementing social media.) We can’t raise a generation of kids who scroll past a murder without batting an eye. This is a MUST-HAVE conversation with our kids.

You can start this discussion with an open-ended question like this, “Have you heard about or seen any online videos where people are hurting someone else?” (It is already trending so it’s likely your kids have already seen/heard about it or will very soon.)

Here are some talking/teaching points for this conversation:

-It is our own responsibility to protect our minds from violent livestream videos. Teach kids to turn it off. I tell my own children, “Once you get the picture in your head, it’s difficult to get it out.”

-Don’t share violent videos. Instead, report them to the social media platform to be taken down. Be the solution. Have respect for the victims and their privacy.

-There is a soul behind that screen (another quote from my book). These victims are people with families who love them. These are REAL people.

-Violence is never okay. These are crimes punishable by law. This is REAL life being livestreamed on social media (we must stop applying the “social media isn’t real” standard to everything — this statement may apply to things like comparison and jealousy, but it doesn’t fit the same mold when it comes to livestreamed violence.) This IS real life on social media. This man was murdered & taken from his family. This little girl was raped.

-I love what my heads-up mama tells me: “Arm, don’t alarm.” We need to talk to our kids about livestreamed violence because they are already seeing it online or hearing about it from their friends (who saw it online). We must remain calm. We don’t want to create fear, but we do need to educate. We can’t stay silent and let them process it by themselves. Remember, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

What else? What would you add to this conversation?

Let’s Talk about Roblox

We need to talk about Roblox. It’s a rapidly-growing game with millions of kids playing each day, and a whole lot of fun! It’s creative because users can create their own games and content changes frequently. Kids seems to love that — it doesn’t get old or boring. Roblox is the server or the umbrella, but under that, there are many games (over 15 million according to their website) created by users.

First, I need to tell you the story of what prompted this post. My kids have played this game for several months as we’ve all been learning it. They always “game” in an open area of our home (no screens behind closed doors are allowed). They have their accounts in privacy mode. According to the Roblox website (see pic below), “locked privacy settings prevent contact from people they don’t know. These players must first become friends with another user before certain activities are allowed, such as messaging, following into game, and playing in private servers.”

This gives the impression that our kids are protected from strangers. They are not. It’s a false sense of security. Strangers still got to interact with my kids within the game!

A couple months ago, my child’s private account had a stranger in the game who started asking personal questions. I was in my kitchen, she was at our kitchen island. A stranger reached out to my daughter literally right in front of my face, and I wouldn’t have had a clue if she didn’t tell me!! Think about if a stranger came up to your kid in the grocery store and started asking her name, city, school, etc. — we would flip out!! We need to be on guard, Parents!!

My child knew what to do because we continually talk about online strangers. She wrote back “Stalker! Bye Felicia” (ha!) and reported the activity. By the way, I LOVE the Roblox reporting screen — I took a screenshot for you (see pic below). We highlighted “personal question” because that’s not allowed. We reported it.

After all this happened, I’ve been researching this in more detail. Here are my primary concerns with Roblox:

1) Content. There are many, many different games to play created by users within Roblox (which is why it’s so fun and creative). Some of the game content is inappropriate. They change often and new games become available so it’s a constant monitoring situation for content. Their website says Roblox is for ages 8-18. I do not want my third grader shooting others with guns on a screen (Prison Life) or killing people (Murder Mystery). Also, cussing is all over the place so the younger your child is, the more you want to talk with them about it (as you can see, swearing is at the top of the list for the reporting screen). Strangers playing along your child can basically write anything they want. When you’re not in privacy mode, you can even move to a private area to play.

2) Strangers. We have to keep talking to our kids about online strangers. People will lie about who they are to build a relationship with your child. I’ve been talking to my kids for years (even before my oldest had her own phone) about not talking to people online. I often say, “You wouldn’t open the front door of our house without mom or dad so don’t ever talk, text, comment, chat, etc. with someone you don’t know online.” This morning, had I not had all those conversations, it could’ve been the start of a relationship forming with a complete stranger.

We must also maintain a balance. I’ve learned that going into crazy mom-mode doesn’t solve anything. It puts up walls and destroys the parent-child relationship. Normally, our kids don’t want to report bad stuff to us because they’re afraid we’ll take away the app. If my child does nothing wrong, I don’t punish them! I actually reward them. Create a teachable moment from it. Talk again about the dangers of online strangers. Do your research. I didn’t make my kids delete Roblox. They are still playing. BUT, I said to them, “You have been given this freedom because you are reporting and not talking to strangers. If I check your accounts and find otherwise, you will no longer play.” Then, I shared a real-life story of a kid who has taken by on online stranger.

We see it over and over again. Every site. Every app. I had my settings set to the highest security. Bad content or questionable material (a stranger asking way too many personal questions) still got through to my child. Restrictions are a tool to use, but they’re not THE answer. The answer is OPEN COMMUNICATION. My new book, TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication, points to this solution as I cover each topic individually.

Also, I need to add — when I reached out to parents, I found that most are YOUNGER kids on this app. In fact, there are tech-savvy parents on our team who have older kids (late middle and high school) but have never heard of this one. It’s new and our YOUNG elementary kids are playing it!

FYI — You can go to the Roblox website for more information. Click on the “FAQ” tab.

*I wrote this back in Jan on the nextTalk FB page, but wanted to post it on my blog so it could be easily found. You can find more info about our nonprofit organization at nextTalk.org.

Book is now available!

I haven’t written a blog post since Feb 2016 because I was busy writing a book!

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted to quit often. There were tears. I talked myself out of it more times than I can count.

I wrote for about seven months. My goal was 50,000 words, but I ended around 77,000. When the draft was finished in August, I thought it was done. This newbie author was so naïve. Little did I know that my editor, who has been in the publishing industry for more than 30 years, was going to challenge me at every turn. Can I tell you a secret? Editors are behind-the-scenes heroes in the publishing world. Heroes. She questioned every cite, quote, statement and word. She was patient with me and all my comma splices. I’m so grateful for her and the entire publishing team. After another five months of editing and proofreading, it is finally ready!!

So, what is this book about? I’ve been on a crazy journey. It started four years ago. I’m continuing to learn, but I write in real-time about what I’m discovering because it’s so critically important.

Parenting has undergone a seismic shift, forcing us to address issues that previous generations of parents never encountered. No matter when you decide to give your child a phone (and that is entirely your choice), we all must recognize that online exposure has changed the entire landscape of parenting. If your kids don’t have their own devices, they interact with kids who do. My daughter, who did not have her own phone at the time, was given details about a pornographic video when she was nine years old. Yep, fourth grade. We must face this new reality of cyberparenting.

book-release-meme-3

In part 1 of the book, we dive into the emotional roller-coaster ride of my own cyberparenting journey. In my search for answers, I made so many mistakes. I felt like a failure. But that search led to a deeper walk with God and an amazing discovery that transformed my approach to parenting.

I recognized that monitoring and restrictions are great tools, but they’re not THE answer. Open communication is the secret weapon. It isn’t about family meetings or formal discussions; it’s about creating a healthy, ongoing dialogue between you and your child. It’s a practical, proactive, on-the-go approach to parenting. Amazing things happen when parents and kids begin to talk.

Open communication isn’t as simple as it may sound. It’s a complicated process that requires time and hard work. In part 2, I unpack four key steps that will help you pave the path for open communication in your family. This section is all about grit and facing it. God showed me that He wasn’t going to change my whole family dynamic without requiring me to look in the mirror first. Ouch!

In part 3, we address some of the most difficult topics parents encounter today, and I share how I handle them with my own children. I also offer some ideas for conversation starters and taking things deeper after the discussion gets going. I created this section as a topic list for easy access so that when you’re dealing with a specific issue and need a refresher, you can quickly flip to that chapter. Here are some of the questions we’ll be addressing:

  • When should my tween get a phone?
  • How and when should I warn my child about pornography?
  • How am I going to monitor social media?
  • How and when should I talk about sex with my tween?
  • How do I respond to questions about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender?
  • How do I address mass shootings and terrorism?
  • What do I say about addiction? Do I have to worry about screen addiction?
  • How do I start the conversation about cyberbullying and suicide?
  • How in the world do I talk about all these difficult topics without causing confusion and fear?

No topic is off limits.

The whole idea of the book is to bring awareness to the new challenges of cyberparenting and create more open communication in families. I’m not an expert telling you how to parent. YOU are the expert on your child. I’m a mom, in the daily trenches, trying to figure out how to address complicated issues at earlier ages because of online exposure. In reality, I’m just trying to answer my kids’ questions over here!

In regard to how I address specific topics in our own family, I do write from a Biblical perspective because that’s how we parent. BUT, please hear me on this: I state throughout the book that it’s your family, your choice.

We may come from different faith backgrounds. That’s okay. We can model mutual respect, even when we disagree. We need everyone, regardless of their beliefs, to be engaged in this conversation and aware of the shift that’s taken place in parenting this generation.

Can you tell we have a lot to talk about?

You can order the book here:  TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication