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How to talk to your teen about internet blackmail, thoughts of suicide

Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - With 2 local teens lost to suicide because of internet blackmailers, one question is: how do you bring this up with your teen?

This is a legitimate question because talking to a teen about sending naked photos over the internet, or a teen confessing to their parents that he or she sent pictures, isn’t easy to talk about.

While this talk may be awkward to have, it’s still recommended you do it and be as direct as possible.

Two St. Lawrence county teens, Shylynn Dixon and Riley Basford, died by suicide recently - victims of internet blackmail after sending embarrassing pictures to someone they thought was a Facebook friend.

Karen Heisig from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says parents need to be direct with their children. Ask who they are talking to online, explain the dangers of sexting, and if their teen is in an embarrassing situation where threats are made, provide love and support and tell them they’ll get through this.

“Parents, if you’re concerned about your teenager, you’ve seen a change in their talk behavior and mood, it might be really subtle, it’s a reason to say, ‘Look, you seem really overwhelmed lately. Have you had any thoughts of ending your life?’ or being very direct and say, ‘Have you ever had thought of suicide?’ They might say no at first, but now they know that you’ve noticed something is going on and that you are there to support them. If we are afraid to ask directly, the message that it sends is it’s not okay to talk about and that’s the exact opposite of what we want to do,” said Heisig.

Warning signs to look out for include changes in your child’s behavior - the way they talk or their mood - even if they act extremely happy.

Experts say this could mean they have found relief in thinking about suicide. If they say they are feeling like a burden or helpless, that’s a warning sign.

Lastly, if a teen isolates themselves or withdraws from things they usually are interested in, these are warning signs.

There are resources for teens and parents.

There’s a cell phone app called notOK and you can download it for free on Android or iPhone.

The Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255. There’s also a text line, where you can simply text HELP to 741-741.

Heisig also suggests visiting the website seizetheawkward.org.

The experts say check with your child’s friends’ parents. See if your kid is acting differently, or ask them how they are handling how to have this talk.

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