You know the story. About two weeks ago, popular YouTuber Logan Paul released a video of a dead person hanging from a tree in the Aokigahara forest in Japan.
The forest is known as a top destination for suicide victims, earning the informal moniker, “suicide forest.” Paul giggled with friends and said to a friend, “What, you’ve never seen a dead guy before?” in the video he posted. It has since been taken down.
Many were outraged; many others defended him. Paul eventually released a video apology and said he’d be stepping away from his channel for a while. He was dropped by the Google Preferred advertising program and YouTube has “shelved plans for an upcoming original movie Paul was slated to appear in, ‘The Thinning: New World Order,'” according to USA TODAY.
But Greg Paul, the star’s dad, said on Instagram that his son would be returning to YouTube despite it all, which makes me question whether the Paul family takes it seriously.
It’s not that he should never be forgiven or should never return to YouTube. But for this story to come full circle without having a serious conversation surrounding suicide AND the impact of disturbing videos on children’s well-being is a disgrace.
Yes, I’m outraged at Paul’s video. Yes, I found the news of Paul’s reprimands cathartic. But this isn’t just about Paul.
This is about the human whose body was so flagrantly disrespected, and it’s about the 15.7 million Logan Paul channel subscribers who saw that video — many of whom I’d guess are kids or young adults — who may not even realize the effect a scene like that has on them. It’s about the stigma surrounding mental illness and a conversation on how that leads to self harm. This conversation is too important to be over.
Let’s get a professional opinion
So All the Moms decided to speak to a child psychologist on the matter. We asked Dr. Abigail Gewirtz, Lindahl Leadership professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Social Science, to discern the possible impacts of disturbing content like this on children’s mental well-being. Plus, what parents can and should do after their kids view it, since it’s been a recurring issue lately.
What a child psychologist thinks of disturbing content like this…
Dr. Gewirtz listed several problems:
- Nightmares, depending on the child’s age
- Warped sense of what suicide is
- Misconception about suicide’s finality
“I worry about kids that don’t realize what suicide is and how final it is,” she said. “I worry about kids who are already depressed watching the content.”
Is society glorifying suicide?
Dr. Gewirtz, who was unable to see the video before it was taken down, said she thinks the primary issue with it, based off of what she heard, is the disrespect that Paul displayed by joking in the presence of a suicide victim.
But she couldn’t help but connect it to a larger recurring theme she sees in society: the glorification of suicide.
Dr. Gewirtz said she’s concerned shows and books like “13 Reasons Why” could be seriously distorting how children view mortality, depression and other mental illnesses and one’s power over another’s choices.
“We know (suicide) and depression peak in adolescence,” she said, “and suicide is deemed, unfortunately, a solution more recently.”
It must be emphasized, she said, that “suicide is the product of a terrible illness: depression.” It is dangerous to plant the idea in children’s minds that suicide makes a powerful statement or changes the way people view you or that suicide can be the ultimate revenge.
“In child development, we know there are young children who don’t understand the irreversibility of death,” she said, “so it’s really not until you’re 9 or 10 years old that you begin to understand that when people die, they’re never coming back.”
- 13 things teens should know before watching ’13 Reasons Why’
- 9 tips for talking to your teen about Season 2 of ’13 Reasons Why’
What to do if you think your child has experienced trauma?
ask if your child has questions
“Sometimes… we project our own stuff,” Dr. Gewirtz said. Before you assume your kid is traumatized, or perhaps not affected at all, try to find out how he or she is feeling. Gather information by determining what your kid knows, doesn’t know, wants to know, should or shouldn’t know, etc. Watch or view whatever visual your child might be having issues with.
Help your child feel safe
However your child feels most safe, help them get back to that place. Let them know they are loved and protected. Let them know that suicide is a terribly sad thing and that it is not a normal occurrence.
If necessary, explain the issue at an age-appropriate level
If your child asks about suicide, Dr. Gewirtz said explain it in an appropriate way. For someone younger than 8, it might be something like, “Suicide is a very sad thing that does not happen all the time. It happens when people have an illness.”
As a child ages, the conversation can become more nuanced. Be sure to explain that there are always other options, that no one should ever feel like they are alone and that if a friend seems depressed and in danger of self harm, to say something.
Do you know what your kids are watching?
The accessibility of the Internet often blocks parents’ ability to know what kids are watching. Yes, there are parental controls, but certain inappropriate content will inevitably slip through.
This is the issue parents and tech giants like YouTube will need to start focusing efforts on. Hopefully sooner than later.