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Feeling Suicidal? Facebook Wants to Talk Kids Down

Should Facebook offer help for kids feeling suicidal?

Every day our children share the most private and most trivial parts of themselves on social media’s mega star: Facebook. Having access to that online confessional offers insights and information normally completely hidden.

New studies are coming out now that show our children’s Facebook posts are revealing significant signs of emotional distress – some quite serious, indicating a risk of suicide.

And some, whose private agony have become public cautionary tales – have foretold their suicides on Facebook: for example, Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge after his Rutgers roommate used a webcam to spy on him. The roommate was recently convicted in the case. Clementi, 18, committed suicide after posting on Facebook, “jumping off the gw bridge sorry”.

Most parents and other adults in kids’ lives are locked out of this secret space. So who is out there keeping track?

Is Facebook Watching Our Kids or Watching Out for Them?

Well, Facbook’s reps say Facebook is watching our kids.

You don’t have to know much about social networking sites like Facebook – the most important site of all these days – to understand that the tens of millions of young people posting gazillions of updates on their “status” every day are often revealing far more about their emotional lives than they realize. In fact, many of the kids who sit silently across from us breakfast and who simply harrumph when we ask about their days after school, are offering ‘friends’ and near strangers detailed insights into their most intimate struggles and darkest fears online.

As a parent, I see this disconnect as one of the most challenging aspects of the digital divide – the difference between what our kids tell us and what they tell their online world. While some tech-savvy parents require their kids to give them passwords or to ‘friend’ them on Facebook as a price of admission to the socially-essential social network, many parents have absolutely no idea what their children are revealing or feeling – online or offline.

Takes a Village? Facebook is the Village Square

If it takes a village to raise our children, Facebook is the village square where all our kids spend most of their time. And while there are lots of reasons to fear and complain about the online obsession, it’s a reality we cannot ignore. It’s not going away. In fact, it’s burrowing deeper into the lives of our children and their psyches.

The social network’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, understands this well. He’s made gazillions of dollars because of his keen understanding. And while I have lots of concerns about issues of safety, privacy and learning related to life for kids online, I do appreciate that the Facebook folks seem to understand the power and potential dangers their invention holds for children.

Suicide Notes on Facebook?

There have been extensive studies and media reports documenting how social networking is as addictive as drugs or cigarettes; how millions of parents are allowing their underage children to break the 13-and-older rule and sign up for Facebook; and how some of those kids are revealing more than just their crushes and movie preferences in their status updates. They are revealing significant signs of depression and even thoughts of suicide.

Several recent cases of tweens and teens committing suicide after posting their intentions on Facebook have drawn even more attention to the power of the social networking site as a place for genuine cries for help. And Facebook is blamed as a central location for intense cyberbullying that resulted in suicide. The social networking site is a lightning rod for these discussions.

In response to this national conversation and concern, the social networking site is offering what seems like an innovative way to help people – especially kids – in crisis. The Chicago Tribune reports:

‘Facebook aims to help prevent suicides with crisis counselor 'chat' service’

“The social networking site launched a new feature that enables users to connect with a counselor through a confidential chat session triggered after a friend reports distressing content. ...First, it brings quick intervention at times when it can be of most help. Second, it enables troubled people to start a chat over an instant messaging system that many find more comfortable than speaking on the phone with a counselor.”

If someone sees a suicidal reference or post on a friend’s Facebook page, he or she clicks a ‘Report” button that asks several questions. If “harmful behavior” is clicked, then “self-harm” Facebook folks review it and if the comment is deemed a genuine risk, Facebook sends the original poster and email with a phone number and link for a “confidential chat session.” Facebook folks then shoot an email to the person who reported his or her friend and if suicide or “other threats appear imminent,” Facebook reps urge friends to call police.

Here's the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.