Michelle Carter in court, screen shot via CNN
At just 17 years old, Michelle Carter urged her boyfriend, 18-year-old Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. In a string of text messages, she harangued him until he went through with it, suffocating himself in his truck with carbon monoxide. Then, she listened to his last breaths and words over the phone.
Throughout the process, she didn’t ask for help from anyone else, she didn’t tell him to get out of his truck, and she didn’t try tell him she wanted him to live. Rather, in text messages like these sent on the day before Roy’s body was found, published by CNN, she helped him plan and encouraged his suicide. She even “threatened” to get him “help” as a way of bullying him into it.
Friday June 16, Carter, now 20, was convicted of manslaughter in Roy’s death. She was tried as a juvenile because she was 17 in 2014 when Roy’s death occurred. She has not yet been sentenced, but could face up to 20 years. So this tragedy too Roy’s life and has in many ways ruined Carter’s as well.
In this age of social media and bullying, when something you say online as a kid can ruin your adult future, we need to talk to our kids about using their words safely and kindly—and Carter’s case is a HUGE teachable moment. With this story as a starter, here are some conversation points to hit with your kids.
1. You’re an influencer and your words have an impact.
In text messages in the weeks leading up to his death, Roy repeatedly says he might not kill himself, even though he wants to, because he doesn’t want his parents and siblings to be upset. Carter responds repeatedly with messages like these:
“I think your parents know you’re in a really bad place. Im not saying they want you to do it, but I honestly feel like they can accept it. They know there’s nothing they can do, they’ve tried helping, everyone’s tried. But there’s a point that comes where there isn’t anything anyone can do to save you, not even yourself, and you’ve hit that point and I think your parents know you’ve hit that point. You said you’re mom saw a suicide thing on your computer and she didn’t say anything. I think she knows it’s on your mind and she’s prepared for it”“Everyone will be sad for a while, but they will get over it and move on. They won’t be in depression I won’t let that happen. They know how sad you are and they know that you’re doing this to be happy, and I think they will understand and accept it. They’ll always carry u in their hearts”
Our kids need to understand that their words can give LIFE to their friends and peers. And they can also give darkness. Words are powerful and they matter. As is says in James 3:6, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” I think that MORE the applies in this case, though in this case it was written word rather than spoken. Which leads me to my next point…
2. It’s much easier to say mean things via text or social media than face-to-face.
The indisputable truth is, it’s SO easy to be a big bad bully when you are hiding behind a device rather than standing in front of someone. I am sure Carter would not have been able to look at her boyfriend’s face and repeatedly urge him to kill himself, mock him for chickening out, and say his family would move on just fine without him. In my opinion, this written word is 100 times more poisonous than what the tongue can spew out in person. Make sure your kids understand that, too, whether they are on the giving or receiving end of hateful messages.
3. Your social media and texts are NOT private, so stop thinking that they are.
What happens on the Internet or via text messages, STAYS there as a record for all to see. All it takes is a subpoena. And sometimes a LOT less than that, like someone, friend or foe, or even a complete stranger, taking a screen shot. What you say online or via text CAN be used against you, whether you are a legal adult or not.
4. Actions have consequences.
This is a lesson our kids can learn from the simplest of childhood experiments, yet somehow many venture into young adulthood still needing to learn the hard way. Let Carter’s example of learning the hard way be something you talk to your kids about. Another good recent lesson along these lines is the story of the 10 incoming Harvard freshman whose admittances were revoked just a couple of weeks ago because of offensive memes they posted on Facebook. (Back to nothing is private, again!)
Roy’s death is a tragedy. Carter’s participation in it is, too. Thought there’s no doubt from the evidence that Roy was suicidal, it seems that there’s no doubt from those texts that if she hadn’t urged him on, or if she had TOLD his family or ANYONE for that matter, he would probably still be alive.
What do you think of the verdict in the Michelle Carter case?