'Secret Hashtags' Make Dangerous Teen Behavior More Difficult to Detect

It will likely come as no surprise to parents that there’s yet another reason they should fear what their kids are doing online.

A recent study found that teenagers are using secret hashtags on social media to share about concerning issues such as depression and non-suicidal self-injury.

According to an article on Yahoo! Parenting, teens are increasingly using hashtags like #selfharmmm for self-injurious behaviors, #cat for cutting, #Deb for depression, #Annie for anxiety and #Olive for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Using the hashtags can help teens avoid parental content safeguards and make it harder for parents to keep tabs on what their teenagers are searching or sharing online, Yahoo! reports.

“The online communities that develop around these hashtags can draw in adolescents and provide them a strong sense of belonging and support that is centered on these unhealthy behaviors,” lead study author Dr. Megan Moreno, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, told Yahoo! Parenting. “This can make recovery from these behaviors more challenging.”

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The trend seems to be growing, the researchers noted. For example, #selfharmmm had 1.7 million search results in 2014 and more than 2.4 million results in 2015, according to the report.

Readers responding to the news had mixed feelings, but many pointed out that teens spend too much time on their cellphones and other devices.

“This article is pure unadulterated fiction,” wrote user Mr. Tasteful, calling the story “scare tactics.”

Another commenter, Joe, said it’s simply a case of “old concept – new technology.”

“They’ll be fine. They just won’t have any real social skills,” he wrote.

And user AmericanGirl said teens seem to have too much time on their hands.

“Have you ever tried to have even a brief conversation with a teen? They are on that cellphone texting constantly or looking up something,” she wrote. “You’re lucky to even get a mumbled reply and don’t even think about any eye contact.”

But it seems like some of the commenters might be missing the real problem, focusing on teens’ infatuation with social media and technology instead of the mental health crises many adolescents face. Instead of getting help, vulnerable teens could be exposed to a harmful network of people supporting or encouraging risky behaviors like cutting.

Issues like depression and self-injury shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to the Mayo Clinic, cutting can cause fatal injuries and can increase the risk of suicide because of the emotional problems that trigger the self-injurious behavior.

It’s unclear whether these “secret” hashtags would really go undetected by parents – assuming teens are even still using them – but it’s important for parents to at least attempt to stay updated on the many potential ways their teens could find trouble online.

Many resources are available to help parents monitor the online activity of their kids. You can find ideas here.

Beyond that, it’s up to parents to talk to their teens about mental health and try as much as possible to stay connected. Most teens might not share everything about their lives, but they should know where to get quality mental health support if they need it.

Have you ever noticed your teen using a “secret” hashtag? What do you think parents can do to help protect their teens online? Tell us in the comments.

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