I thought she was fine. Simply a teenager melodically swinging from one mood to the next.
Shock has a way of running through your body, similar to the burn of hot water on your hand. At first, you feel its icy bite- then it hits your nerves and your mind wraps itself around the reality of its heat.
When my ex-husband called me at work that day, it only took a few minutes for his words to sink deep into my core, literally dropping my knees to the ground.
“I found some disturbing stuff on my computer at home. Our daughter accidentally left her YouTube channel open…”
It didn’t stop there. My body began to vibrate with every bit of information he shared with me. Waves of emotion from anger to shame plus guilt to sorrow washed over me at a rate I could not control.
During the twenty minutes or so in which we spoke, I realized I didn’t know my daughter anymore.
I didn’t know what was transpiring in her mind. I didn’t know she wasn’t okay. I didn’t know anything.
Her father and I have always trusted her, though kept a watchful eye on her social media accounts. We frequently checked her messages on her computer and phone.
I admit I wasn’t as strict as her Dad. Perhaps I wanted to believe I had one of the ‘good ones’- a polite honest teenager who wouldn’t want to hide anything from me.
By all outward appearances, my daughter seemed healthy, happy, independent, comfortable in her skin, and unquestionably strong-willed.
Nevertheless, she was hiding her melancholy from me, and the influences of social media were making it worse.
After arriving home from work on that muddled and trauma filled day, my ex-husband and I had a lengthy discussion. I learned my child had spent a considerable amount of time watching and commenting on social media threads regarding self-destruction and suicide, among various other heartbreaking discoveries.
I learned she was sad and lost, and part of the reason was me. There is nothing in life that will ever prepare you for this type of guilt.
As for the rest of the details, I am not at liberty to disclose those for the sake of my daughter’s well-being. I will not put her mental health in any more jeopardy than I feel I already have.
I cannot and will not go into the particulars of her experience or story, that is for her to do. It is her story and not mine.
However, she has gracefully allowed me to share what we feel is an important message. It is one that not only includes some teenage suicide triggers, but also the effects of social media on our teenage daughters today. Our story — as everyone’s is different.
As a mother, I can honestly tell you I never once thought my daughter would have suicidal thoughts or act on them.
I am no helicopter mom but pride myself on the relationship I have (or believed I had), with my daughter. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but what Mother Daughter duo does?
Despite our minimal arguments concerning messy bedrooms and incomplete homework, we have an intimate connection.
I assumed she told me everything. I was wrong.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, and sorrowfully, I feel nothing but guilt and ignorance for it. For I was once a teenager hiding feelings from my parents, fearing wounded emotions and judgment by the most important people in my life.
She is no different. Though she IS growing up in a world much different from what I did.
Our children are living under a microscope. Every detail of their lives is made to feel as if it MUST be shared and spread throughout social media.
And their biggest influence is us. Their parents.
We are the ones perpetuating a ‘share it with the world’ mentality. We are teaching our children nothing is sacred, not their potty training, their braces, or their first car accident.
Yet, we forget what it felt like to be a teenager.
We overlook that even before social media existed, everything we did as an adolescent felt as if it was magnified a trillion times.
We forget that teens sometimes feel tiny in an enormous world.
Unimportant. Misunderstood. Frightened and different from the rest of us.
Our children’s world has grown exponentially, and in it so has the magnitude of peer pressure they feel. These demands weighed heavy on my daughter.
My world, the social media fueled blogging world, affixed a presence she was not prepared for. Nor did she ask for.
Before I realized it, she took issue with and underwent stress from me sharing parts of her life on my wall or in my writings, she stopped allowing me to take her picture. And if I did get a picture she begged me not to share it on Facebook.
These were the red flags that I wasn’t ready to believe or admit were my fault.
She felt scrutinized by my followers, as I do sometimes myself.
The internet is tough to navigate as an adult let alone as a child, forming principles and their own persona.
Imagine how it must feel today for our teenagers. With filters on every camera and trolls on every Facebook thread, our children are exposed to an environment we never knew, not as teenagers.
Likes and views give them social status, sometimes their worth.
I’m embarrassed I let my daughter fall victim to something I strongly advocate against. My heart shattered when I finally let the severity of the situation sink in.
I could have lost my daughter.
My daughter not only felt pressures from a broken home, the life of a high school student, a tall gangly frame, a smile fitted with braces, but she felt a pressure to be ‘as beautiful and perfect’ as she believed everyone on social media to be.
I needed a wake-up call and I got it. Thankfully, my wake-up call didn’t end tragically in an agonizing statistic. I could very well be writing a much different story today if it had.
And trust me when I say, I have never been more grateful that I am writing this one.
Today in this house, we are working on being better to each other all around. We are listening and talking more than ever.
I am working on practicing what I preach, spending less time on social media and more time being her Mom.
I do everything I can, every day, to not tear myself apart for feeling as though I failed my daughter.
We are getting there, and thankfully, we are doing it together.