Opinion: Urgent request to parents of teens

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Here’s something I’ve come to believe …

I don’t think parents should allow their children to own or carry smartphones until they’re 18.

In fact, I wish it could be a law — but of course that’s impossible.

No, this is in your hands, mom and dad.

A thought was already running around in my head, but it became set in stone after spending a few hours with the parents of Austin Croffoot, the Coeur d’Alene High freshman who took his own life at 16 years old.

Sure, we’ve all seen the statistics: Suicides are up nationwide, they’re up even higher in Idaho, and for whatever reason, higher yet here in North Idaho.

Cruelest of all, numbers of the very young who make the choice to die continues to skyrocket, and it seems to be happening all around us.

Like most people, I couldn’t understand it.

I kept saying: Why?

Well, that conversation with Kevin and Kathy Croffoot convinced me of part of the reason.

A pretty damn big part, I suspect.

Impressionable young minds come with wildly changing emotions, and smartphones might as well be loaded guns for some of these kids.

Austin Croffoot’s death was a total shock, but only because the family didn’t know this friendly, personable young boy was living two lives — and his shadow existence on the web ultimately killed him.

Since I wrote about Austin and his folks, I’ve received what seems like endless amounts of mail — all urging more effort to prevent teen suicides, and almost all pointing a finger at smartphones.

Just for starters, here’s a comment from a teacher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job …

“I have seen this behavior (like that of Austin Croffoot) rise in the past few years.

“My belief is that the rise in this behavior is cellphones. In the past, you would make a comment and it would take a day for it to circulate throughout school — and there would be a fight on the playground after school the next day.

“Today, a comment is made, and during class people are already sharing it, commenting on it, and getting ready for the fight.”

OF COURSE, the fight he’s talking about these days isn’t out behind the school like in the old days.

It happens online, almost instantaneously, and in minutes a young person who started the day happy has been bullied to the point that he or she has retreated to some dark place.

Parents, try to remember when you were 15, 16 or 17. Think of how much it mattered if a particular group of boys or girls made fun of your outfit, or that you weren’t good at sports, or anything at all.

It hurt, didn’t it?

Now try to multiply that anguish by 10 or 100 or 1,000.

That’s how fast insults and horrible remarks zoom online, and kids simply cannot help checking their smartphones — even when they suspect they’ll be crushed by what they see.

Over and over, people have been writing in to say what I’d been thinking: Parents need to get these things out of their children’s hands.

There may be another step needed, as well.

Mike Henggeler wrote a thoughtful message to ask if there might not be another “Why?” beyond actual cyberbullying, and that’s a valid — if frightening — question that perhaps needs to be addressed.

But I think we should all agree on what the vast majority of readers suggested — and what the Croffoots endorse emphatically.

Teens are far too susceptible to pain.

They shouldn’t be carrying devices that can devastate them in minutes.

Wait until they’re 18, at least.

Please.

And finally …

Yes, yes, to everyone who has been so encouraging, to those who keep on writing so passionately about the Croffoots and my friend Haylie Thompson.

Yes, yes, yes.

I WILL stay on the trail of this curse until more young people are safe.

Thank you all.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Twitter:@BrandNewDayCDA

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