The internet has had a profound effect on the proliferation and normalization of teenage suicides. Suicide is the 2nd-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, and study after study shows the rate of suicidal thinking and behavior is on the rise. What is technology’s role?
Suicide and Media Consumption
In 2017, a popular teen drama on Netflix, 13 Reasons Why, sparked international debate when it caused a spike in suicide-related search terms such as “how to commit suicide” by as much as 26% immediately following its release. In less than a three-week period, the show led to somewhere between 900,000-1,500,000 more suicide searches than normal.
Suicide prevention experts have long maintained that the media has a critical role to play in helping prevent teen suicides. Media that sensationalizes or glorifies suicide tends to produce a so-called “copycat” effect, sometimes producing up to fourteen times the typical rate of suicides. Researchers have confirmed a statistical correlation between suicide-related search terms (i.e. “complete guide of suicide”) and actual suicide deaths.
Factors that Put Teens at Risk
Research shows that youth who are exposed to graphic images and glamorized portrayals of suicide and/or violence in media are at a higher risk of committing suicide. Unfortunately, suicide prevention is more complex than simply keeping kids away from inappropriate content.
Teens’ internet consumption can be a significant factor in their risk for suicide. The CDC maintains that teens who are bullied – both in real life and online – are at an elevated risk; they’ve gone so far as to deem “electronic aggression” an official public health problem.
And the way teens don’t relate to one another seems to be almost as important as the way they do. Some experts argue that teens who retreat into the internet for hours at a time feel more disconnected from society and are thus more likely to commit suicide themselves.
Preventing Suicide by Protecting Teens Online
Teens, tweens, and young adults spend between a quarter and a third of their waking hours at school. With technology more integrated into the American curriculum than ever before, it’s imperative administrators be able to use said technology to help protect teens on several fronts.
Smoothwall, a leading provider of internet filtering technology for schools, addresses teen risks head-on through a system known as “Safeguarding.” When a school’s wireless network is protected by Smoothwall, administrators are immediately notified when teens search for suicide-related terminology. Smoothwall’s Safeguarding program goes one step further than most filtering solutions by proactively monitoring seven specific categories of relevant search terminology, including bullying, abuse, and drug use. The search terms that correlate to suicide aren’t always straightforward; Smoothwall provides administrators, parents, and mental health professionals, when necessary, with the full picture.
Could Smoothwall help stop teen suicides at your school? Preventing suicide is a monumental task, but the right technology can help. Reach out to a Smoothwall representative today to learn how Safeguarding could be used to protect teens at your school.
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