This is a solo Coffee Chat episode where Vonne talks about past and current trends of the dark web, including sexploitation, exploitation, cyber-bullying, coercion, seduction, suicide pacts, negative influencers and young children accessing content by accident. Sharing her own story about what she missed after losing her daughter to suicide in 2005, after she accessed the dark web, and what other parents of children in trouble or who have died missed, is valuable to help parents of today be aware of the lure of the dark web and what they can do to protect their kids. This episode complements Episode 3 Keeping Your Kids Safe from Tech Troubles! with Andrea Davis from Better Screen Time, who helps parents and families create a tech plan that is right for them (a link to that episode is below).
0:00 Welcome. Music.
0:11 Introduction to the episode. References Episode 3 with Andrea Davis and provides a quick summary of the trends, dark web and negative effects that raising a generation of children with devices has produced based on research.
3:44 Nobody is immune from the dangers our children face on the internet, suicide statistics.
7:47 Vonne shares her story of her daughter's access to the dark web in the early 2000's and what the internet was like then, the aftermath of her daughter's suicide.
12:48 Rates of actual suicide deaths.
13:23 What to be on guard for as a parent, what's really out there that can pose great risk to our children regardless of how perfect things seem.
19:15 What the research says about the negative impacts of technology.
24:02 What you can do as a parent to protect your children.
29:42 Thanks for watching!
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Andrea's episode 3:
Vonne Solis 0:00
Welcome to another Grief Talk Coffee Chat episode. I'm your host, Vonne Solis.
Vonne Solis 0:11
Okay, so welcome again to another Grief Talk Coffee Chat episode. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the dark web. And what your kids may be getting up to. The previous episode with Andrea Davis of Better Screen Time was absolutely so impacting and so powerful for parents to listen to or watch. And I'm going to put that link to that episode below for your convenience if you still haven't seen it. But Andrea and I, Andrea was a former educator and she got into the Better Screen Time business to help parents develop a tech plan for their children starting from babies, right through to late in their teens. And I'm not going to go into detail about what we discussed in that episode. But essentially, we covered a lot of the harmful effects, right from birth to six years old, where parents in the last generation for sure, have felt very pressured to put a device in the little wiggling hands of their babies to comfort and console. And the effects that researchers of pediatrics and so on are now finding from technology, essentially, the biggest one being that starting from babyhood and into childhood and certainly by teens, our children of today are not able to really regulate their emotions. And by regulate, I mean, understand how to emotionally decompress. Get themselves out of a fearful situation, or anything that feels threatening to them. Understanding emotionally and even mentally, that, "Oh, you know”, through the comfort of mom, dad or another parent guardian, that "Oh, okay, that was really scary, but I got myself out of it", or "this didn't actually happen to me", or "I can figure things out" or whatever that situation is.
Vonne Solis 2:47
With the technology apps, platforms, and whatever else is going on out there in the dark web that our kids do find the backdoor into it, even when as parents we think that they don't, the effects and the impact of that can be if not, at best damaging, actually life threatening or life ending. And there is I should say a lot of evidence of coercion, sexploitation, cyber bullying, hate and packs for suicide. Other things going on the internet. And that's not even the dark web.
Vonne Solis 3:44
So, one of the reasons I'm doing this show post my interview with Andrea is because we did not have time and nor was it the episode to explain my personal experience. But I wanted to let people know that nobody is immune from being impacted and affected. Sometimes, and often actually, with tragic outcomes. No one is immune to their child at any age really succumbing to the dark, or I should say the negative, horrifying, shocking, goings-on of the dark web.
Vonne Solis 4:45
How the kids get into the into the back door of the internet I don't know. I have seen newspaper journalists go on a mission to understand a suicide pact in a Scandinavian country three years ago, which led to the death of a number of young teenage girls. Thirteen, fourteen years old. It happens in the States. It happens in Canada. It happens in the UK. It happens in Europe. It happens all over the world. And I've got some stats here that I'm going to put up for folks able to view this. But essentially, when we're looking at in the States, suicide being the third leading cause of death for youth to age 24, that's going to be, I'm assuming, include children, teenage and youth up to age 24, and it is still a leading cause of death around the world, we have a problem. And depending on what country you're in, there is for every one suicide 20 to 27 others are attempting it.
Vonne Solis 6:06
So just sticking to the US and that suicide is the 12th leading cause of death and there is a suicide every 11 and a half minutes, and there is an attempt every 27 and a half seconds, this is just in the United States. I'm in Canada, our rates are similar as adjusted. I'm pretty sure the rates around the world are pretty similar. I know in the World Health Organization stats they have that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide between 15- and 19-year-olds. So, I mean, when we're looking at these statistics and looking at the fact that suicide is an epidemic in most countries around the world, what we're really not understanding is number one, as I said, how kids, how young people are getting into the backdoor into the dark web. And what it is about our cultures, our sociology, that there's even now, coercion to entice people and cheer people on to end their lives, and not only just end their lives, but video it.
Vonne Solis 7:47
So well, I don't mean this to be a horrible podcast episode, I do just want to speak to these facts as a bereaved mom of a 22-year-old daughter who died by suicide in 2005, and who had accessed the dark web. And what's really important for us parents to talk about. I've also got an episode I'll be airing shortly on bullying and suicide with a friend of mine who is in the alopecia world. And so, she comes from the bullying side of it, I come from the suicide side of it, and we talk about what can we do as parents, as a society, culturally. And that's a pretty enlightening, well, robust conversation I guess, I should say.
Vonne Solis 8:39
But as a parent, all I can do is go back, and I have spent a number of years going back and I don't obsess about my actions any longer, but I did for a number of years, about going back and really not understanding what my daughter Janaya was into at the time. So, if you go back to 2005, we are talking (and prior to that), so 2004, possibly even 2003, so we're coming up 20 years now 18, 20 years. So, we didn't have Facebook. We didn't have apps, such as, Instagram, WeChat, Snapchat. You know, all of these like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. We didn't have any of these things. What they did have was chat, where you'd go on and you'd type a message and whoever you were chatting with would type of message back. And I guess what all we had back then was like, chat. We didn't have iPhones yet. And so, there wasn't this immediacy of connection through some type of an app. And oh, we had boards. That's the other thing I wanted to say. So, we had boards, and I didn't think much of it, because I actually didn't know how harmful, even back then, almost two decades ago, the internet could actually really be.
Vonne Solis 10:09
But after my daughter died, the police absconded with her two computers. And I actually didn't even know why they took them. I was like, 'Why are they taking the computers?' And I imagine they'd still do that today, confiscate devices when they're suicide, and so on. And it was about two months later they brought the computers back and didn't really say anything. But did confirm that she had accessed some of the dark web, and more specifically, at least two suicide boards. And they wiped that clean. Obviously, they did not want us finding, as parents, finding where she had been. What she had said, and so on. And Lord only knows what those messages would have been.
Vonne Solis 11:01
But anyway, right after that, I was able to gain access to yet another suicide board as an observer. And somebody that had some tech savvy skills back then got me in. And I never registered for it. I was able just to read what people were doing, what the site was about, and so on. Ultimately, with its thousands of members, including a young teen; you were technically supposed to be 18 years old to be on that site, but younger people were on it. And essentially, the purpose of the site was for, and this is, again, we're going back a couple of decades. I have no idea how much more impacting and coercive and enticing it is today; the language, the type of content being posted and shared. But back then it was done through chat only. So just messaging, no images or anything like that. Not text messaging, typing. And essentially, it was about encouragement. So, you could go to this site, and you could talk about your suicidal thoughts and how depressed you are and that you wanted to kill yourself, like, "I want to die". And I think that's good that people talk about when they're having mental health issues. And who of us doesn't have that? Like suffer with some depression, sometimes anxiety, worry, concerns, you know, and we don't want to be here. I mean, this is a normal human condition to struggle against the existence.
Vonne Solis 12:48
But the difference is, for someone who really means it, it's really knowing who that person is, or when one of your loved ones turns into that person. Which is about 8 to 10% of suicide attempts, or people talking about suicide. The average rate is about 8 to 10% of those who threaten suicide or of actual people with suicide ideation, even maybe attempts; 8 to 10% actually do die.
Vonne Solis 13:23
So, knowing when to take something serious, number one as parents, we don't even know our kids are having these kinds of conversations, but we do know from, as I said earlier, newspaper journalists researching and putting stories together, documents. You can go to YouTube and although there's not a lot of stuff there, I have found two or three stories shared on YouTube about the suicides of young people, and in looking back, you go, “Oh yeah, the signs were all there”. Same in our case. But it's when you don't know what you're looking for and even if you do know what you're looking for, there's still no guarantee. You still don't really know what you're looking for. You don't know what's going through your child's mind at any age.
Vonne Solis 14:14
So, I guess what I'm really just trying to say in this episode is that the dark web exists. And even without the dark web, like I said, I just don't even know what all they're accessing. Twenty years ago, they were, "You want to die, and you want this method?" You're told exactly how to do it. I'm not going to go into detail but there's somebody there who will tell you exactly what you need to basically end your life in a specific way that you are thinking about it. There will be somebody telling you exactly how to do it and probably encouraging you.
Vonne Solis 14:54
When I was watching all of this and you know, as a as a newly bereaved mother and obsessed with a lot of things that were dark at the time, this being one of them, I was also looking to see traces of my daughter possibly being there. And I stayed sort of watching that site. And obviously, people were anonymous and had a handle, so you would have no idea who they really were. Where they were. Where they lived. Where they were coming from. And the only way you would really know that is if they said their age, for example, or they spoke about their, "Oh, I really want to end my life today, but my mom or dad are coming home in two hours, and I don't know if I'll have enough time". Things like that. So, you can kind of figure out if you're talking to, or sorry, not talking to, if you're reading something posted by an older, even professional adult, or a young person. In which case they were still being encouraged, I would say? Not anything anti-suicide or suicide prevention. Where it's, "Please, just go talk to your parents. How can we help you? What are you feeling? What are you struggling with?" It was really all about - the suicide boards were all about promoting and supporting those who wanted to end their life.
Vonne Solis 16:21
So, knowing this for as long as I have since 2005, that these boards exist, and having the type of harmful content be exposed through media, and parents' stories in modern day, today, we understand and we know, and everybody understands that the web can be a really dangerous place. And when you think that the worst can't happen to you, I want to let you know that it can. It absolutely can.
Vonne Solis 17:00
And it doesn't matter how much money you have. It doesn't matter how beautiful your home is. It doesn't matter that your child has the best support that you feel you can give that child. It doesn't matter how many extracurricular activities they're in. It doesn't matter how many A's they get. It doesn't matter how popular they may be. Recent suicides of top young female athletes in the United States - boom, boom, boom, shows that none of that matters. And when as parents, we're going off to work, and we may or may not be meeting up at the dinner table and eating together, because life practices are such that they're so busy, and I'm pretty sure that hasn't changed since I was raising my children 30 to 40 years ago. And you know, this activity after school for this one, and that activity for that one, and running around and working full-time, and sometimes maybe trying to manage aging parents or other responsibilities. And you know, maybe there might be relationship tensions that you have to deal with - and all of that just to say, it can become easy to very quickly and without even really knowing it, to lose your grip on the family. And on what your kids are doing.
Vonne Solis 18:26
I don't expect this episode actually to get a whole lot of views or listens, just because it's a topic that we really don't want to talk about. And most people think that something really bad or something really tragic that happened to you know, the person across the street or down the road or in your kid's classroom or in your kids school; whatever, you think that it happens to other people. You don't think that it happens to you. And you might be right, maybe it won't happen to you. And I hope it doesn't happen to you because obviously, there are far fewer bereaved parents in the world than there are parents who still happily have all of their children. But the rules are the same for everybody. Not knowing really how your child is feeling. Not knowing what they're struggling with. Not knowing what they're accessing on the web.
Vonne Solis 19:15
When scientists and medical professionals have found that social devices have become the go-to comfort when a child is in trauma or in hospital, or getting a needle or whatever is happening to them that is highly impacting in their life in a negative way, and they're using the social device instead of having the parent comfort them - and this is with no disrespect to parents, it's the way - and if you watch the episode with Andrea, she talks about this - this is the way that parents have been conditioned and even pressured to make sure they're not losing out by robbing their kids the opportunity of being connected to the net and having the latest device and so on. The effects now, with science able to look at nearly a generation, nearly a generation - so we'll talk up to early 20s at this point from baby to early 20s, where they've had the most impact in having a device in their hands from the youngest of ages; they're finding that we're basically raising and have raised a generation of young individuals who, and I'm going to read this because I don't want to get it wrong: they are dependent on devices for comfort, learning, awareness, development, and influence.
Vonne Solis 20:58
So, I really want to say that again. This is the first generation having grown up largely with devices, so to about their early 20s, maybe a little younger because my son is thirty and there weren't the devices when he was a baby. This all came a little bit after. And I'm not sure if they started when he was around ten and he got his first like, I don't know, iPod, I think it was called. But we didn't have the phones. We weren't giving babies the phones and iPads and computers and whatever parents are struggling with keeping their child connected to some device because you're just supposed to, versus when we had to rely on just the same old-fashioned kind of toys that they'd had in the decades before, with the exception of maybe they were making different sounds. Okay, maybe a few more electronic sounds, but we weren't dealing with the interaction. And as Andrea talks, it's more about the interaction and the touch screen. The touch screen, as opposed to just viewing, even when they view television - it's the interaction of the touch that has really screwed up the brain's regulation and created a generation of young individuals, and we're raising them now, as children, who I repeat, turn to their devices for comfort, learning, awareness, development and influence.
Vonne Solis 22:43
So coupled with their ability to access apps and platforms they shouldn't be accessing, and cases of, in recent news reports, of sexploitation going on in addition to exploitation, blackmailing, bullying, hate crimes, suicide, coercion, and enticement, we really have a cultural and social problem. And while we're obviously not going to solve it by just a handful of conversations, what they have found to be the most impacting for change is communication. Play for children, of course, but communication. And I can attest to the fact that even though I had a close relationship with my daughter, and we had the conversations, I was terrified to ask her, her thoughts on suicide. Her thoughts on self-harm. And most specifically, whether or not she had been thinking about it or whether or not she was planning to do anything to herself.
Vonne Solis 24:02
And for that I take full responsibility as a parent who was living in fear, and worried about her because something seemed off. But worried about her. And trusting medical intervention, that you know, it was just growing pains of young adulthood. And I'm not blaming doctors and I'm not blaming myself anymore. I just wished I had the awareness and the acceptance that my child, there was so much more to her than I wanted to believe there could be. And at the time, I wasn't even aware of the dark web. Didn't even know the term. But today, there's no reason for parents not to know that term.
Vonne Solis 24:49
And, so this is just actually, in addition to any other voices that are out there talking about this, and from parents who have more recently lost their child or teen to some kind of interaction they've had in the dark web or in the dark forces on the regular internet, I just want to add my voice to it as well and say: Please do not make the same mistake that parents like us have made. Where we trusted. We assumed. We stayed silent. We kept the worry inside. We did not check devices. We didn't have the conversations about , "What type of apps are you accessing? Has anyone texted you? Bullied you? Is anyone bullying you?"
Vonne Solis 25:39
You know, there's a whole bunch of factors there. But really, most importantly, it's just about really, really - being very, very engaged in your child's life, even when you think you're engaged enough, I can't tell you how many parents I have met, that, once they've learned I've lost a child for whatever reason; we might be chatting, you know, having just one of those one-off conversations or whatever, and they tell me how worried they are about their own child. And while I can't go back, just the same as no parent can go back who has lost their child to suicide. where probably I'm going to wager the majority, if not all of those deaths have been impacted, influenced in some way with use of a device and internet, I am saying for parents that are worried, and even if you're not worried, you do have an opportunity to really understand and get involved in what your child is really up to, and have them talk to you about what they think these influences are doing to them.
Vonne Solis 26:52
I really don't have the answers per se. I just have the voice to tell you that when you can't go back and you wished you could have said all of these things, or you wish you could have done more, ask yourself now, today if you have any amount of worry, what it is you're worried about. What it is you're too afraid to talk to your child about and make yourself go do it. Really, you could save, you could save their life.
Vonne Solis 27:27
Anyway, thanks for watching, thanks for listening. Be aware. Stay safe. Keep your kids safe. And I will put that link to the episode on Better Screen Time for tech family plans. If you happen to be listening or watching this and have younger children, it's never too late to start getting involved with managing the tech differently, and reconnecting and looking at your own family structure, just to see where there might be any gaps you're missing in communication, support, listening, and you know, having a grown-up conversation. That's the other thing I found is I didn't credit my daughter enough with knowing everything she really did know. And a lot of this I found out after she passed. And almost all parents, when they've lost their child, they find the same thing. So, our kids are very astute. And I believe that they want these conversations. And even if they don't want it with you as mom or dad, then, I don't know. Maybe finding a buddy for them? Like, we need to get the supports in place to help each other better, in our tough times. I'm not trying to exclude any groups at risk of suicide at older ages. I'm really just sort of focusing on the child, teen, youth ages here. But we all need to comfort and to be aware of each other and to help each other feel heard, respected, valued and cared about.
Vonne Solis 29:21
So, while that's a conversation that politicians in every country need to listen to, and why suicide frameworks really are taking so long to finalize and how we support each other in our mental health struggles still seems to be a really big problem, to catch it early is like a gift.
Vonne Solis 29:42
So, thanks again for watching, listening, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode.