NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s commonplace for teenagers to write messages to their friends saying they are going to “kill myself” or “slit my wrists”, which makes it difficult for parents and school officials to know when to take these suicidal and homicidal posts seriously, according to Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Computer Science Pamela Wisniewski.

Wisniewski has done extensive research on how teenagers interact with social media through the lens of online safety and has found this kind of language used with some regularity in the posts and private messages she has reviewed.

“Youth are almost desensitized to some of the violent language that’s out there,” she said. “So they’ll bully each other to say, ‘go kill yourself’ or, ‘I’m gonna kill myself’ in conversations that are in group conversations that are joking, and so to some extent, I think the social culture around using violent language is something that’s become more acceptable.”

With these types of posts and messages appearing in teenagers’ feeds with some regularity, adolescents develop a higher standard for reporting these issues to an adult, Wisniewski explained.

“It’s really important for parents to listen because they’ve already reached that threshold of saying, ‘Okay, something’s wrong,’…by the time they actually do say something, we need to listen,” she stressed.

With kids now back in school, she said it’s important for parents to understand what’s happening on social media is usually amplifying what is happening in a teen’s life.

“Things that are happening online can exacerbate problems at school, and things that are at school can come home with them through social media,” she said.

In 2022, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire looked into the concept of “digital self-harm”. They describe it as posting, sending or sharing content online that is hurtful about oneself anonymously.

According to the study’s results, 9% of teenagers digitally self-harmed and 5% said they cyberbullied themselves.

The study found that digital self-harm is related to suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

However, Wisniewski said parents shouldn’t dismiss any posts mentioning self-harm or homicidal acts because of this. She stressed adults should have conversations with teenagers and children about good social media practices to make sure they develop healthy habits online.

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“It’s really important for parents and adults, educators to really listen when [children] trying to seek help instead of taking a blaming or accusatory like, ‘Oh, why did you do that? That was stupid,'” she said. “Because otherwise, we’re not going to be the people they come and confide in.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm you can always call or text 988 or reach out to Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741-741.