Ask an Expert Questions
Ask the Expert: Has your child threatened to kill?
I have a son in 6th grade and I am still reeling after reading some of his texts. He seems to be a well behaved boy and does not get in trouble. But I was shocked at the kinds of sexual comments he was making and his use of violent talk. For example, he made a sexual comment about a friend’s girlfriend. The friend threatened to tell on my son. My son’s response was I will KILL you, stab you if you tell. Please don’t tell. I am sorry!!! I have never heard him speak this way. He said all his friends talk like this. I am so shocked I don’t know what to say or do. Does he need counseling? Is this normal? This was not the only time in text that he used the expression to kill, die, or stab. He a few times opened his texts comments with die and stab like he was saying hello almost like a greeting!! I am lost and confused. I confronted my son. He was embarrassed and very upset. He said it made him sad that I saw the messages. Can someone advise me?
Response: Most likely, your son is using this threatening language because it makes him feel powerful and perhaps even cool. For today’s youth, email, text messages and IM give kids a sense of distance and even anonymity from the messages they send. Mixed with adolescent impulses, kids often say things online or through texts that they would never say in person. While this may be startling to you, this scenario is not uncommon among today’s tech-savvy youth.
The fact that your son became regretful and sad when you discovered the messages may be a sign that his texts were more likely a show of power than actual intention. The reality, however, is that threats like these are taken very seriously today by our communities, the school system and the law. Regardless of his intentions, this type of language is classified as cyberbullying and children are being severely reprimanded for threats like these. Many school districts have developed a no-tolerance policy when it comes to threats of violence and implement serious repercussions for students who engage cyberbullying.
It sounds like you’ve seen other texts that bothered you – ones with sexual tones or aggressive language. While this is most likely a case of normal adolescent exploration, don’t disregard the pattern of behavior. Most threats made by children or adolescents are not carried out, according to The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, however, warnings about killing someone else should be taken seriously.
Visit the AACAP Website for an article entitled “Children’s Threats: When are they serious?” by clicking this link: http://tinyurl.com/yadfxcj. Then, follow up with these general guidelines when addressing this incident with your son.
Get a conversation going. Avoid angry lectures and panicked discussions. Instead, stay calm, find a place to talk without distractions and ask open-ended questions to better understand what’s going on and connect with your son. Talk to him about the gravity of his words, help him understand that text messages can be forwarded to others, copied and posted online and taken at face value.
Talk about cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a big problem among tweens and teens, and your son’s texts are one form of cyberbullying. Many kids also engage in cyberbullying when they become a victim themselves. Visit the National Crime Prevention Council’s page on cyberbullying (http://www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying) for a brief overview and additional resources.
Restrict his access. Behaviors like this may indicate that your child is not mature enough to use a cell phone, email or IM without your supervision. Consider taking away cell phone privileges temporarily and monitoring his email or IM sessions. Don’t do it behind his back – make sure your son understands that using technology is a privilege and you’ll be supervising his communications until he demonstrates responsible behavior.
Consider other influences. Children today are exposed to violence in many ways – through television shows, movies, video games and sometimes, even domestic violence – and boys more so than girls. Think about the media and environment your child is exposed to, how his language may be influenced by it, and how you can minimize the negative influences. Taking away those influences may help reduce your son’s tendency to participate in violent behavior.
Follow your instincts. Keep your eyes open for sudden mood changes, lack of interest in activities, a drop in grades or unusual aggressive behavior. These, or any other uncharacteristic behaviors, coupled with the threatening texts may be a sign that trouble is brewing. Even if you don’t see signs, but have gut feeling that something is wrong, trust your instincts. Consider school guidance or a professional counselor to get to the root of the problem sooner rather than later.