Twitter is trending today with the hashtags #CutForZayn and #cut4zayn, as some fans of popular pop band One Direction respond to news of Zayn Malik’s departure from the boy band with photos of self-harm. However, it is important to note that many of shared photos are the same ones that circulated during the #cutforbiebs hashtag trend in 2013.
Many have responded with parody images. Things like paper cuts or even photos of literally cutting paper, cake, pizza or various other items. And, while all that may be funny to some – self-harm really isn’t anything to joke about.
Oddly enough, March is also Self-Harm Awareness Month. I would have probably remained unaware of that fact, had I not recently joined the ranks of too many who have found themselves in a similar situation – being the parent of a child who has self-harmed.
We recently learned that our teen was cutting. What we have discovered in the several weeks since finding out about our own family crisis is there is a frightening trend growing among youth – and that parents, for the most part, are oblivious to it. Not to sound ancient, but back in our day cutting and self-harm were secretive behaviors. We couldn’t do something to ourselves and blast it online to thousands of followers, so the motivation to do so was likely more internalized than that of today. Now, I’m not saying it should remain private, but there is a huge difference in speaking about an issue of health which is used in a constructive and helpful way vs. promoting it in an effort to seek attention or acceptance.
There is now a glamorization of self-harm that is taking place on social media within peer groups, often leading to an acceptance and even a desire to be included. It is that very acceptance that is often craved by those that struggle with not fitting in – and now they fit somewhere; they fit in with fellow cutters.
I would venture to guess that most parents think, “no way, not my child.”
The fact is our kids can hide a surprising amount of information from us. Even in homes with very open communication, like ours, we still missed this one. Sadly, some of it could have been avoided if we had been more proactive with monitoring online access.
One item that often goes unchecked is the smartphone. Our child experienced cyber-bullying; was accessing apps websites like Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, and Tumblr – all of which we thought we had locked down. We also found that peers were regularly posting photos and memes that glamorized cutting. We had taken some steps to limit access online, but kids are technically savvy, and some of the standard restrictions were bypassed.
I am by no means saying that online activity was the sole reason we found ourselves in crisis, but it certainly was a contributing factor. To deny that would be absurd.
Unfortunately, it appears we are not alone in not realizing the severity of risks posed to our child. Here are a few startling facts from the McAfee Digital Deception Study 2013: Exploring the Online Disconnect between Parents & Pre-teens, Teens and Young Adults:
- Three in five (62 percent) of parents don’t think their child can get into that much trouble online and only 17 percent believe the online world is as dangerous as the offline world.
- Only 20 percent of parents say they know how to find out what their child is doing online and 74 percent say they don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with everything their child is doing online.
- 39 percent of parents claim to have set parental controls on home computers and mobile devices.
Certainly, teens can get into trouble and find themselves in situations they are unprepared for in the “real world.” However, risks are even greater when peer pressure, even when simply implied through observation of others’ actions, is as accessible as clicking a hashtag.
There are tools available to help guardians with the daunting task of parenting in the digital age.
TeenSafe® Inc. is a service that we’ve employed in our home since our incident. Services like this provide parents with the full picture of what the child is doing on their phone via a website. When used in conjunction with other tools and factory restriction settings, there is a means to keep our kids safer in their online activities.
The video below from TeenSafe shows what activities can be monitored REMOTELY on your child’s phone.
Featured image via Pixabay