Darla Halyk thought her daughter was a typical, slightly moody teenager. Then one phone call changed everything.
As the writer and mom of two from British Columbia wrote on her blog, New World Mom, she’d always believed that her daughter was a “good” teenager:
A polite, honest teenager who wouldn’t want to hide anything from me. By all outward appearances, my daughter seemed healthy, happy, independent, comfortable in her skin, and unquestionably strong-willed.
But that was before she got the call from her ex-husband, who had accidentally seen what their daughter was viewing and sharing online:
When my ex-husband called me at work that day, it only took a few minutes for his words to sink deep into my core, literally dropping my knees to the ground.
“I found some disturbing stuff on my computer at home. Our daughter accidentally left her YouTube channel open…”
Halyk thought her daughter was happy and healthy, but the teen had been hiding her depression and suicidal thoughts.
In just a few moments, everything that Halyk thought she knew about her daughter turned out to be wrong. She wrote:
Waves of emotion from anger to shame plus guilt to sorrow washed over me at a rate I could not control. During the twenty minutes or so in which we spoke, I realized I didn’t know my daughter anymore. I didn’t know what was transpiring in her mind. I didn’t know she wasn’t okay. I didn’t know anything.
And there was worse news to come. As Halyk and her ex-husband discussed what he’d found, she realized that social media had made her daughter’s situation worse. It was a devastating blow, and Halyk blamed herself:
I learned my child had spent a considerable amount of time watching and commenting on social media threads regarding self-destruction and suicide, among various other heartbreaking discoveries. I learned she was sad and lost, and part of the reason was me. There is nothing in life that will ever prepare you for this type of guilt. Nothing.
Until that day, Halyk had trusted in her good relationship with her daughter and believed that the teen wasn’t holding back from her. It never occurred to her that her daughter could have suicidal thoughts.
Halyk wrote that she was depending on her good connection with her daughter, but forgot about the reality of what all teens experience:
I assumed she told me everything. I was wrong. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and sorrowfully, I feel nothing but guilt and ignorance for it. For I was once a teenager hiding feelings from my parents. Fearing wounded emotions and judgment by the most important people in my life. She is no different. Though, she is growing up in a world much different from what I did.
Teens are growing up in a different world, where social media demands that every moment of our family’s lives are photographed and shared with the world. Halyk had to confront the fact that parents are often the ones responsible for making children feel they’re “living under a microscope”:
We are the ones perpetuating a ‘share it with the world’ mentality. We are teaching our children nothing is sacred, not their potty training, their braces, or their first car accident. Yet, we forget what it felt like to be a teenager. We overlook that even before social media everything we did as an adolescent felt as if it was magnified a trillion times. We forget that teens sometimes feel tiny in an enormous world. Unimportant. Misunderstood. Frightened and different from the rest of us.
Along with the growth of social media comes a level of peer pressure that is difficult to comprehend for people who didn’t have strangers in other states weighing in on their adolescence.
As a blogger, Halyk knew how difficult it can be to deal with the internet and social media. Knowing that she’d unwittingly placed those same pressures on her daughter left Halyk wondering how she’d missed the signs.
Halyk realized that her daughter wasn’t only dealing with the normal pressures of being a teen — high school, coping with a broken home, insecurities about her appearance — but also with the pressure to live the perfect life of the people she saw on social media. It was more than anyone could handle:
Imagine how it must feel today for our teenagers. With filters on every camera and trolls on every Facebook thread, our children are exposed to an environment we never knew, not as teenagers. Likes and views give them social status, sometimes their worth. I’m embarrassed I let my daughter fall victim to something I strongly advocate against. My heart shattered when I finally let the severity of the situation sink in. I could have lost my daughter.
Halyk says she’s thankful she got a wake-up call before it was too late. Otherwise, she might have been telling a very different, very tragic story. With her daughter’s permission, she’s sharing the effect that social media had on her teen and working to spend more time listening and talking as a family.
She also wrote that she’s trying to spend less time on social media and more time being a mother. The knowledge that she was participating in something that was hurting her daughter continues to hurt her:
I do everything I can, every day, to not tear myself apart for feeling as though I failed my daughter.
That’s why Halyk wants other parents to understand just how serious an impact social media can have on teens and children. As she told Dearly, this is something we’re only learning about now, but the consequences could be worse than we ever imagined:
“This is new and uncharted ground for parents. Not only are our children growing up in the age of social media, we as parents are learning how to raise them in this new world. We are their example and if we don’t start taking notice, I’m afraid of the outcome.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.