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Question: A child is threatening to hurt herself

Dear Lounge Advice,

I am not sure if you can help us with this but, here goes:

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into my sons room (he's 13)while he was reading an e-mail from some girl that he met in a chat room (gaiaonline) and the e-mail had a picture attached of her boobs. He said that she is 14 yrs old. I talked to him about this and told him that he is forbidden to exchange ANY photos of any kind with anyone online. I went over all the precautions of not giving personal information about himself or his family and the reasons why he should not do this. I explained that he could not be 100% certain that the other person on the internet is who they say they are. I have been keeping an eye on his computer and checking his online history (he never logs out of any of the programs). Today, I came across some e-mails and more pics and several e-mails in which this girl tells him that if he were to ever break off talking with her she would commit suicide (this is not the first time she has talked of hurting herself), in previous e-mails she has mentioned cutting and self mutilation. I spoke with my son again tonight and asked if he felt that she would do harm to herself if he cut off any contact with her. Needless to say, he burst into tears and told me yes, he was afraid that she would. I also retreived her phone number from his cell phone and did a reverse number lookup to find out if it was a cell phone or a residence phone number. My son told me that her mother is rarely home, which explains why she is able to be online at such a late hour (she is in Florida and we are in California) Now, my dilemma is, do I contact her parents (apparently, her parents are divorced and her mother has re-married) and tell them of what has been transpiring? I am afraid that if she does hurt herself, then my son will have the guilt of this over his head. Do I just let it go and do nothing to intervene and let her parents know what is going on? I would hate to think that this girl may be sending out pictures of herself and chatting with real pedophiles online. What do I do?

Concerned Parent

Sincerely,

(Anonymous)

  
Dear (Anonymous),

As a teacher, I have to say that you should contact the parents. As adults in this type of situation, we always have the responsibility to inform other adults if a child is willing to hurt themself. Besides, if you do not contact the parents, your son is at risk for blaming himself for anything that may happen to her. The adults in her life need to know what she is threatening. If we have the power to act, we have the responsibility, especially when it comes to a child's well-being.
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