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Talking With Your Kids About the TikTok Suicide Video

By Joannie DeBrito, Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT
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Teen watching video online
We must be aware of what our kids are watching online and how it may impact them, especially in the case of the recent TikTok suicide video that has gone viral.

The latest of numerous shocking videos to show up on social media is perhaps the most tragic. In August, a man live-streamed his apparent suicide on Facebook. Since then, the suicide video has gone viral on TikTok and other social media platforms. 

Fear of Missing Out

While social media users encourage others not to watch this disturbing suicide video, many kids have already seen it. People who haven’t watched the video may be tempted to watch it, simply because they’re being told not to do so. We all understand that, don’t we? It’s a fairly common reaction to want to look at something when someone says, “Don’t look.” We humans are curious by nature and want to know why someone wants to keep us from seeing something they’ve already seen. Then there’s a new phenomenon known as FOMO — fear of missing out — that hits our kids incredibly hard. They want to make sure that they don’t miss out on the latest news, trends, etc. FOMO drives our kids to keep up with their friends’ conversations. 

Monitoring What Our Kids Are Watching

But, for parents, this is concerning. First off, social media platforms claim to have all sorts of measures in place to protect our kids from seeing things they shouldn’t see. Those protections aren’t perfect, and our kids still get exposed to plenty of traumatic images. Can we all agree that it’s not appropriate for anyone to see a real live person die by suicide?

Most parents know that it’s essential for them to monitor their kids’ social media accounts. I think that many parents take this very seriously. But parents can’t watch every moment that their kids are online. Traumatic images come in segments from a few seconds to just a few minutes long. Because of this, even the most conscientious parent will miss some things that their children are viewing online. Adam Holz, Director of Plugged In at Focus on the Family, offers some comments here that might be helpful for parents:

“If your kids are watching live-streamed content, there’s really no telling what kind of inappropriate material that they could be exposed to. All social media platforms theoretically have safeguards and censors to keep stuff like this from happening. But inappropriate content, whether violent or sexual, still seeps through at times, as in this tragic case… Therefore, the right response is:

  • to know what your kids are engaging with
  • set limits
  • to promote conversation and 
  • be aware of what the dangers are. 

Most of these platforms do have parental controls. But, again, we can’t  simply trust the filters to do their supposed jobs and think that our kids are now ‘safe.’ They aren’t. Wise interaction with social media includes knowing what filters and parental controls are available, combined with a relationship where you’re talking regularly with your kids about what they’re engaging with.”

Teen Suicide: Knowing the Signs will help you distinguish normal teen behavior from more serious problems, like depression and suicidal thoughts. Tune in to hear expert advice and insightful stories.

My Kid Has Watched the Suicide Video — Now What Do I Do?

If your kids have seen this suicide video, it’s essential to talk with them about their reactions to it and what they’ve been thinking about and feeling since they saw it. Having the opportunity to discuss their reaction thoroughly can go a long way toward minimizing the exposure’s effects. In many cases, letting them vent, listen, talk, and brainstorm ideas to prevent exposure in the future may be all your child needs to adapt and move on.

However, if you notice that seeing the suicide video appears to have had a profound effect on your son or daughter, don’t hesitate to consult with a counselor. You might want to take advantage of Focus on the Family’s free helpline. You can call 1-855-771 HELP (4357), M-F, 6 AM- 8 PM and speak with a licensed mental health professional. 

If your children have not seen the suicide video but are tempted to watch it, talk with them about what they hope to gain from viewing someone taking his life. Ask them about the consequences they’ve faced when they’ve caved into temptation in the past. If they seem determined to find the video and watch it, remember, you’re the parent. You can and should impose limits on what your children are allowed to watch online. 

Suicide: A Rising Trend

Unfortunately, this video underscores a prevalent trend in our current culture: rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Among those 10-34 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Our veterans, first responders, and health care workers are also currently experiencing increased rates of suicide. Thankfully, parents can take an active part in preventing suicide in their children.

Resources That Can Help

During this week, National Suicide Prevention Week, take the time to review Alive to Thrive, Focus on the Family’s biblically based suicide prevention resource. You can find this resource at www.alivetothrive.com. Nearly every child knows someone who has died by suicide or been touched by suicide in some way. It’s vitally important for parents to talk about suicide with their kids. The great news is that there is so much help available for kids dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health issues. Please talk with your kids about their mental health and the issue of suicide. If you’re not sure how to do that — and most parents aren’t — please check out these resources:

Finally, while the online world is now part of our kids’ lives, it doesn’t have to consume all of their time. Encourage your kids to get outside, enjoy the sunshine, or go for a run or a hike. Be sure to go along with them once in a while. You’ll both be better off for it.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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About the Author

Joannie DeBrito, Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT

As the current Director of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family, Joannie DeBrito draws from over 30 years of diverse experience as a parent educator, family life educator, school social worker, administrator and licensed mental health professional.

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