Seeing first- and second-graders on their smartphones leaves Rick More deeply troubled.
He has come to believe the downsides of social media are contributing to a decline in mental health among young people.
More feels this likely factored in the death of his daughter Lindsey, who took her own life at the age of 22 on Sept. 20, 2015.
Outwardly, Lindsey appeared to be a smiling extrovert. The family didn’t know for many years that Lindsey was experiencing depression. “All through high school, she hid it,” recalled her father.
But throughout those years, “Lindsey lived on her phone, day and night, she even went to bed with it,” recalled More, who noted previous generations did not have this endless barrage of information and accompanying pressures.
Those who knew Lindsey knew she had a passion for travel and flying and had been in the process of attaining her private pilot’s license. “She had a big heart and wanted to help other people,” recalled More.
He was dumbfounded when he learned that his daughter had tried to end her life twice before.
“I was downstairs, watching TV one evening, when she came home at about 1 a.m., crying…. She said, “Something is wrong with me. I tried to kill myself twice.’
“My God, to hear that, as a father, was a shock,” he recalled.
More and his wife, Cindy, listened to their daughter talk about her dark thoughts and depression, and encouraged her to seek professional help.
More recalled Lindsey returned from one counselling appointment disturbed that the first question was “How are you going to pay for this?” She discussed with her parents wanting to start a non-profit to help other depressed young people who might not be able to afford counselling.
Lindsey never lived long enough to see her dream fulfilled. When the “fatal day” came, the More family was left with heart-wrenching sorrow.
“You learn to live with it. But I still miss her every single day,” said More.
To make some sense of the tragedy, the family started the Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation to make Lindsey’s wish to help others come true. The foundation now has an endowment of $600,000 and is assisting people with mental illness treatment and education.
Around the time Lindsey died, several other young Red Deerians were also lost to suicide. More recalled discussing with his wife Cindy, “was there any correlation to why this is happening?”
The parents recalled Lindsey’s preoccupation with her cell phone and talked about how previous generations did not have to contend with the kinds of pressures that are inherent to social media.
The Internet was a factor in the high-profile suicide death of B.C. teen Amanda Todd. The 15-year-old was cyber-bullied to expose her breasts via webcam by a Dutch national, who was later found guilty of extortion.
Other kinds of online bullying are also happening 24/7, said More. Where victims once got a break from taunts after leaving the schoolyard, access to social media means they no longer get a reprieve at home.
Facebook, Instagram and other online platforms are also exposing people to the so-called perfect life, said More.
“To get one perfect picture to post, people take 50… some people brag about what they are doing,” never posting anything about their real troubles, or less glamorous details, he added. As a result, this can feed other people’s insecurities.
“They see themselves falling behind, and it can create envy…. We let too many personal things be shared,” said More, who believes parents must stay on top of what their kids are doing on smartphones or computers.
On Sept. 12, the Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation flew in social media expert Paul Davis to speak to Grade 6-9 students in the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division, as well as parents.
Davis, an online social networking safety director from Ontario, gives talks about appropriate ages for smartphone use, the impacts of screen time, establishing ground rules on cell phone and mobile device usage, what children could be exposed to online, and how to stay safe on social media.
More said the foundation wants to do the same kind of presentation for kids and parents at Red Deer Public Schools.