I’d like to get your insight into something I had to deal with recently with my teen daughter.
Late one evening, over a school holiday, she received a text from a friend (not a close friend) that caused her concern. This girl, who’s known to be a drama queen, indicated she was unhappy and feeling down. She told my daughter she was sending her a secret message in a text and that my daughter had to decipher the message. When my daughter couldn’t do so, she asked the girl to simply reveal the message. Turns out that buried within the text were the letters to the word “suicide.”
My daughter shared this with me immediately, and my husband and I began to ask questions and try to discern the next best step. I didn’t know the parents and tried diligently to find a contact number for them. (My daughter didn’t know the girl well enough to even know where she lived.) So I had my daughter call the girl (versus texting) and say she was coming over to talk, could she get her address? The girl said she was getting ready to go to bed and that her parents were asleep, so it was too late to come over. When my daughter persisted, saying she and I were both worried about her, she said she would talk to my daughter further at school in two days. This made me feel slightly more at ease, but first thing in the morning, I called the company where her mom worked (I’d discovered this info via a Google search) and left a voicemail saying our daughters were classmates and would she please call me. (I had previously told my daughter I would be calling, as I didn’t want her blindsided in case her classmate got upset with her.)
When the girl’s mother returned my call, I calmly shared the information about her daughter’s texts the previous night. The mother seemed grateful and said her daughter has been to a counselor in the past but she was unaware she was having a difficult time again.
My concern in hindsight is, did I handle this situation correctly?
– Worried Mom
Dear Worried Mom,
First of all, I’m glad your daughter felt safe coming to you with her concerns about her classmate. That speaks volumes about your parenting. It sounds like a stressful situation for everyone. You don’t want to discount someone’s plea for help, especially when they use the word “suicide” (even if it is hidden in a message and seems like a game).
On the other hand, given what your daughter shared about the girl’s propensity for creating drama, you don’t want to overreact.
You definitely needed to connect with the girl’s parents and relay the information about their daughter’s messages. Anything less would be irresponsible. For whatever reason, the girl was crying out for attention. Now it’s up to her parents to see that she gets the help she needs.
One thing to consider if you’re ever in such a situation again is to try to include both parents in the conversation, if possible. Not always easy anymore with working parents, divorce and travel, but one way to insure everyone is on the same page.
If you didn’t already, it would be helpful to arm your daughter with phraseology in case the girl approaches her or gets angry at her for speaking out. If that should occur, simply have your daughter repeat the phrase, “I told my mom because I was concerned and care about you.” Encourage her not to engage, but simply repeat that phrase – after all, it’s the truth.
Feel good knowing your intentions were pure and required action.