Friday, February 14, 2014

Friends of Friends

Lately Emma has spent a lot of time texting people she has never met. First there was Jackson --he lives in town and goes to school with a friend of Emma's best friend. Next came Katie, a friend of a friend of a friend, who actually lives in England. Most recently is Emma (this girl is in her contacts as "Emma (not me)"), who is somehow a friend of Katie from England, although she lives in Chicago. They all interact through texting and Instagram.

She and Katie have set things up to Skype, but haven't actually done it yet (the time difference puts quite a crimp in their interactions). Katie does have some videos on Youtube, though, so Emma has seen her. She has Facetimed with the Emma in Chicago. I tell you this because at least I know these are real girls, around her age. I've asked her what they look like, not because I care but because I wanted to be sure they were really kids.

Friday evening, when I was bugging Emma to stop texting and help her dad build some IKEA Expedits (because she had agreed to earlier), she said she was trying to make sure Katie didn't cut herself. Yeah, that kind of cutting. I asked a few questions.

This morning Emma was already up and texting when I stumbled down the hall to take my shower. Later, after I'd showered, I stopped by again to let her know the bathroom was all hers; she was sitting very quietly on her bed. Automatically suspicious of such quiet, I asked what was wrong. It turns out that the Chicago-Emma's best friend committed suicide last night. We spoke for a few minutes about how sad that was, and how if she ever felt that sad she had to promise to come talk to me about it. She continued to text this girl while we were driving to school, and at one point she started crying, and said that she was scared --this Emma was already depressed and was talking about killing herself too, and she'd stopped answering her texts. 

Okay, I'll admit it never occurred to me that dealing with friend problems would be multi-city and even multi-country at this age, but here's what's really worrying me. Is this all real? There are several different possibilities: these kids are not mentally very strong or perhaps not in supportive environments and are seriously in danger. Or these kids are just teens exaggerating things for effect. Or, perhaps, these kids are actually making all this up just to provoke an emotional response. I know, that last one is very cynical, but given the things I've heard that people have done via social media, it seems just as likely as the others.

For a 13 year old, Emma is generally pretty cheerful. Even her anxiety has been less over the last few months, and she's pleased with what she's doing at school. I don't mind at all if she's upset about a friend, or offering emotional support to a friend --but I really wish I knew whether these situations were real or not. She has IRL friends over most weekends, and she's still going strong with Kempo and writing her stories, so I'm not worried about her emotional health. But I find myself very uncomfortable dealing with these friends of friends situations. Have any of the rest of you encountered anything similar?


  1. Oh wow. I've never run into this at all--but my sons aren't online like that and T only texts people he knows in person. This would be a difficult chapter to address...and kids this age are so dramatic and drama seeking and sensitive, which adds a whole layer to the trouble of it. I think I'd be more skeptical and encourage friendships online with people she has a real-life connection to at this point for safety's sake...I'll be curious to hear what others say about this topic, Cassi.

  2. My girls are now 24 and 30. Although it's possible that Emma's invisible friends are truly having the problems they hint at, chances are very good they are using the anonymity of text to create and star in their own drama shows. Upsetting for the girls who get drawn in and believe it (although even fear can be thrilling), but quite tempting for the ones who do it. You already know how much young girls get caught up in their own angst--the pull of doing it anonymously must be pretty compelling. I think it's the next step after the imaginary play of small children. I hate to play devil's advocate and I know it sounds cold--but it's something to think about. I might be tempted to gently suggest to Emma that MAYBE these girls are only pretending--and also, that it's not her job to "save" them. (And yes, these actresses usually do [finally] grow up into charming adults--we did, right?)

  3. I haven't run into this at all, so I have no words of wisdom.

  4. This is an alarming thing, one that I have not encountered in my own family. What sounds good to me in all of this is that your daughter will talk to you about it (when you ask).

  5. Oh my, I am thankful I never had to deal with anything like this. I think you're right to be suspicious whether this really happened or not, but at the same time you can't ignore the possibility. I have no advice to give either, but I agree with Common Mom is that it's good that Emma is confiding all of this to you. That's the most important thing--to keep the lines of communication open.

  6. I find this so very frightening as a mother who wants to protect her kids. One of my own has dealt with the very hard moments of being friends with a person who is suicidal and it takes its toll on the kid who tries to help. You are right to keep those communication lines open I had not ever considered what Jenny (above) has suggested but I suppose it could be true.
    What we told our own teen was "You need to make sure she tells her mom how she is felling" and "this is something that your friend really needs to talk over with a trained counselor. This is a heavy load for you personally to bear." I can chat more about it via e-mail if you'd like. I know how difficult it is to be the parent of the kid who is trying to help and feeling upset.

  7. I'm sorry, I've never run into this, although I AM super scared now because apparently this is a thing I'm going to have to deal with in 5ish years?! I have to admit: my first response is one of cynicism. I assumed they were all making it up in dramatic relish for effect. But... what if? What if it's real? Not helpful at all, I know.

    And, as a little aside, Crikey! I don't check your blog for a few days and look what happens!