I didn’t know Billy Watts or his family personally, but when I was alerted to view his social media timeline, I felt immediately connected to him. Tragically, Billy Watts, 17, a senior at Renaissance High School in Detroit is no longer with us. Eerily, Billy’s life and death played out in front of thousands via his social media timelines.
In light of last week’s school shooting in Washington and the numerous stories I’ve read or blogged about regarding teens who are crying out for help in social media, I was compelled to have a conversation with my daughter. We talked about how some teen’s online actions, become their offline reality. They are simply saying “look at me,” “please help me.” Although my child didn’t know him personally, there was a buzz amongst her peers about Billy. That night she showed me Billy’s social media timeline, and said, “Oh My God, this is exactly what we were talking about,” this is not good. We began to share the word via social media seeking for help to find him, unfortunately we were all too late.
Looking over Billy’s timeline I can feel his artistic brilliance and his vibrant soul. By all counts he was a creative, innovate and talented young man. During his last days, he took his followers through an eloquent journey of his thoughts, life and ultimately his death.
Last night when I heard about his death, I was numb. I prayed for his family, his peers, his friends and all of our children. The question, I ask myself is, “Marlin, what can you do, to help?” At this time in the midst of my shared heart break, the tears, and the love I feel for his family and all of our babies, I offer this blog in honor of Billy and share some tips with parents and teens, on things you can do to help save the next life.
1. Do you know what’s going on emotionally with your child offline, in the real world? What’s their state of mind? Are they acting differently? Have they experienced a major life event? Break-ups, low test scores, not being invited to an event, not making a sports team, feeling fat, feeling like they don’t fit in are sometimes major life events for teens. Ask the questions, get in their business. Your child might find your conversations annoying, however some teens are simply looking for the opportunity to talk about the ups and downs of their day.
2. Get in their business. Your child may not share their feelings with you, but more than likely they will share them online. If your child is on Facebook, you should consider being on Facebook. If they are tweeting, you should consider joining twitter. What photos are they posting on Instagram? You should know. It is imperative for parents to be active participants in their children’s online lives. Not to scare you, but their lives could depend on it. I know, I’ve heard it before, “I don’t want my child to think I don’t trust them or “I believe my child should have some privacy, – and to that I say “No Excuses!” There’s always a way to make it happen.
3. Activate your social media village. I get it, some parents don’t want to engage in social media or feel as if they are spying on their children. This is where you get creative and ask for help from your friends, family, sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, church members, etc. For example my daughter is active on two social media sites, but I only follow her on one. My niece, who is much more hip follows her and interacts with her on the other social media outlet. This gives my daughter a sense of freedom, while I still have my “eye on the prize,” through my niece.
4. Talk, Talk, and Talk again. Never underestimate the power of communication. Share stories like Billy’s with your child and discuss what they would do if they saw a friend crying out for help. Tell them that their lives are worth living, empower them to love themselves, let them know that you love them, hug them, let them know your proud of them, talk about expectations and consequences. Don’t wait for the perfect time to speak with a child, as there is no such thing as the “perfect time.” Do it over dinner, on the drive home, at the end of the day, on the way to practice…Just do it.
5. Do not blame yourself or others. If you have not been keeping an eye on your child’s online activities for whatever reason; forgive yourself, breathe, stop beating yourself up, and most importantly let’s not judge anyone else as this does not serve any purpose and takes away from what’s important which is, honoring Billy’s life, helping his family, friends, and peers heal, and showing our children that their lives matter. I’ve had way too many conversations with parents who are feeling overwhelmed, wondering if they are missing something, or if they are doing the right things. HEY… As parents we are all doing our best, we are doing what we know to do. Think about it: How many things did you do as a teen that your parents still don’t know about? We are not going to catch everything and that’s OK. This is where we truly become a village of love and care, and act “as if” every child is ours! This is how we help one another out. SO…no more judgements about yourself or others. All of our babies matter, and we are in this together.
1. Your life is valuable…and you are loved. Please know that there is nothing so horrible, that warrants you taking your life. Ever heard of that passage, “This too shall pass?” Whatever it is that makes you feel that life is not worth living, is a LIE! Whatever it is cannot last forever, it’s just something you’re feeling right now. Your problems do not define you, they are merely a temporary thing. You are worth it, the world needs you, you are loved and you are never alone. Think you can’t talk to anyone, no I don’t know you personally, but if you feel as if you can’t talk to anyone, try me….
2. Handling cries for help. First I want you to forgive yourself if you saw a friend crying out for help on Social Media and you couldn’t help them. Your friends actions are NOT your fault and often times there’s so much more to the story. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Moving forward, when you see troubling posts such as, “I feel alone,” “I want to die,” “I have nothing to live for,” “No one cares,” etc., take them seriously. Call the friend that’s in distress, alert other friends, If you don’t know the person, go ahead and find mutual friends and alert them, contact a family member, or reach out to school officials. No, it’s not snitching, it’s not being nosy… it’s actually a very caring and loving act, which could save a life.
3. Create a pact with your friends. The pact simply should state, “You are not allowed to take your own life. When things are rough, suicide is not an option. We are your friends, we care about you, and there’s nothing you can’t share with us. We have your back, we will see you through this. Promise that you will call your friends first and we will be here for you.
4. Be the one. If there’s a classmate who is different, dresses differently, looks different, talks different, I challenge you to be the one to get to know them. If you see someone being teased, talked about or bullied, I challenge you to be the one to speak up. If you see someone who is always alone, I challenge you to invite them into your group. YOU have the power to change the dialogue.
As I write this blog, I randomly selected a song to immerse myself in and His Eye is on the Sparrow, began playing. All I can do is smile, because it’s my confirmation that Billy is at rest, and that his death will not be in vain. RIP Billy…You will be missed.
I’ve just learned that Billy’s family has created the “Billy D. Watts, Jr. Memorial Fund.” You can contribute at any branch of PNC Bank.
Marlin Page is a Globetrotting Speaker, Founder of Sisters Code, and thought leader on bridging the racial and gender gap in technology and eliminating the digital divide. As Chief Technology Mommy, Marlin serves as on Online Safety Evangelist exposing “real life” internet and social media stories impacting children around the world and providing practical tips to empower parents to keep their children safe on the Internet while encouraging teens to use social media responsibly. Marlin’s book and music CD, “Always Believe,” empowers girls to love themselves, believe in themselves, and celebrate their uniqueness.
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