It can be very hard to maintain open lines of communication with teenagers, and most parents experience times when their formerly chatty children become taciturn. This can lead to worry and speculation that the teen is struggling with an issue or covering up a problem. There are even websites that encourage teens to speak their minds, anonymously, of course.
These sites are alarming to read; teens confess to self-harm, rage, fears, sexuality and illegal activities such as drug taking and alcohol abuse. Suicidal thoughts also occasionally make their way onto the page.
Teens may not all be telling the truth on these sites, it’s not unusual for children to have online fantasy lives or fake profiles where information is shared in order to gain attention. The problem is that these kids may be exposing themselves to negative influences as well as feeding the feeling that they are not understood by their parents.
Here are two examples of such “teen confession” sites:
The first one appears to run as an Agony Aunt format, with the anonymous teen uploading a confession and an anonymous community manager responding with advice, some of it helpful, some of it not.
The second site is full of the anguish of teens, but merely uploaded for reading purposes with no comment. Teens confess their thoughts and fears, presumably to stop the thoughts from overwhelming them.
Parents were teens once, too
Before you kill the Wi Fi signal in your home, remember that many of the anxieties being expressed were once your own worries when you were younger. The internet may not have existed back then, so you had to work through your problems on your own (or discuss with a trusted friend).
You can use this knowledge of what it’s like to be a teen to start conversations, although your child may reject the thought that you could ever understand the pressure that they’re under. If you’re concerned that your child may be spending too much time in a negative environment online, suggest that he write down his worries on paper (and then destroy the notes).
The ideal situation is to have a no-secrets policy where you can all discuss things in a constructive way. Some anxieties have solutions based on affirmation or practical resolutions, but sometimes it simply helps to express the thoughts without having to pick them apart. Depression can't be fixed with a quick discussion, though.
If your teen is threatening self-harm or engaging in damaging/illegal activity, you should chat to the school counsellor about how best to help your child.
Here are some danger signs to watch out for:
When should you worry about your teen?
Bullied to death
The internet is also home to predators that prey on the emotions of vulnerable people, so you should ensure that if your child is online, that he or she understands that the “helpful stranger” may actually be someone with a fake identity.
Each family will decide for themselves how to manage internet access and usage, but there should be strict ground rules for all in order to ensure that your family is safe online.
Lifeline’s web site provides a list of Lifeline Centres in your area, as well as contact details for Child Line. Alternatively, you can contact them toll-free at 0800 055 555.
The Child Emergency Line can be reached for free at 0800 123 321.
Child Welfare SA provides a hotline for reporting abuse: 0861 4 CHILD (24453)
What do you think? Are teen confession sites cathartic or dangerous?