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If My Son Had Texted the Wrong Person, He Could Be Dead

The Michelle Carter suicide texting case is a lesson for parents

Published on: August 07, 2017

teen-texting
Photo:
Flickr user sclover

When my son is in a suicidal crisis, he always follows the same pattern. He texts a friend, usually female, and always one that he knows will tell me when things get too scary. He feels more comfortable talking to his friends than me about his depression, but it's always done in a way that he knows deep down will keep him safe. And each time, he's been right — his friends have always made sure I knew when things got too bad.

That wasn't the case for Conrad Roy III, the teenager who reached out to his girlfriend when he was struggling with suicidal thoughts. Rather than encouraging him to tell his parents or seek help, Michelle Carter did the unthinkable: She told him to kill himself. Carter was sentenced to 15 months in prison last week for her role in Roy's eventual death by suicide, but there's little justice to be had. Roy is still dead, and Carter may never see a day in jail (she is currently free awaiting appeal).

I've been in the same position as Roy's parents. I've been unaware of the torment going on in my son's brain. The difference is that the people my son trusted did the right thing. They texted me or went to the school nurse (who then notified me). They were afraid he would be angry at them, but they did the right thing anyway. They had my son's best interests at heart, and they made the caring, compassionate decision to prioritize his safety over their relationship.

Until the Carter case, I didn't recognize how lucky I am. I've appreciated these girls who take a stand, and who love my son enough to be unpopular if that means saving his life. But it never occurred to me that the person he trusted might turn on him for their own selfish reasons. I certainly never imagined that if my son was on the edge of suicide, faltering, ready to change his mind, they would tell him to get back in the metaphorical car.

As parents, we don't like to imagine our kids struggling with severe depression. We certainly don't want to believe they are suicidal. I've never talked to my own teens about what to do if one of their friends is in crisis, and I don't think I'm alone. I hope my kids would do the right thing — and certainly they wouldn't push their friends to kill themselves — but I haven't given them the tools they need to ensure they can.

Just this morning, my daughter came to me and said "I think this kid is going to kill herself." She showed me her texts, and they were concerning enough for us to try to find a way to contact her mother. My daughter came to me with her concerns, but I shouldn't have relied on that. What I should've done was make darn sure my teenagers know how to respond when someone they know is in trouble.

There is nothing any of us can do to change what happened to Roy. But as parents of teenagers, we can make sure our own children are equipped to handle their friends' needs in a mature and responsible way. Rather than shying away from tough topics, we can make sure they have what they need to make difficult choices — and when they do, we can be there for them without judgment.

I'm proud of my daughter for coming to me with her concerns. But next time, I'll make sure she doesn't need to.

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