While loading my net home page, I usually glance over whatever news appears in the headlines (on msn.com). I’m pretty anti-news as far as things go, so usually I only come by what’s happening in the world incidentally or through word of mouth. Yesterday, I came across the story of 8 year old Julianni Plascencia, who died this past weekend. For a full account of the story, check out this link. As a summary for those who don’t have time to read through all the articles, this 8 year old child told his brother earlier that day that he was going to hang himself. His brother, not taking him seriously, still told him he shouldn’t joke about such things. Their mother had run out to the store, leaving the elder brother in charge.
When the elder brother noticed he hadn’t heard any sounds of playing, he got up to investigate and found Julianni on the ground of his parents bedroom, one end of ascarf around his neck, and one end around the doorknob. Although 911 was called and he was rushed to the hospital, he never regained consciousness, and his heart just couldn’t be restarted once it stopped. His family is devastated. All reports say that this is being termed a tragic accident, and it is suspected that Julianni was actually trying to mimic a scene from a movie he had watched when he was startled, and slipped. He was a happy boy, with a heart “too full for this world” who loved God and football.
Now, being a psychology major, I’ve seen the research that violence in the media does influence children, and that children will mimic the things that they see in the media or in video games. And while I personally can’t think of a movie that has a scene in it where, trying to mimic it, you could accidentally hang yourself, I have seen an episode of Criminal Minds where some kids accidentally die playing the choking game (for a recap of that episode click here). And no, Criminal Minds didn’t invent the “Choking Game”, nor is it much of a game. It’s a very dangerous, very stupid concept for getting a “safe high”..the Criminal Minds episode does a very good job of making sure to drive home the point that there is nothing cute or safe about hanging yourself from a doorknob, and the results can be deadly. Real life teens have died from this. Check out this news clip.
But, does this whole idea of accidental hanging really apply to poor 8 year old Julianni? Was he actually trying to do something else when he slipped or fell and ended up accidentally hung? Well, from all accounts of the story, that’s just not the case. The child meant to hang himself: he told his brother he was going to do it shortly before he did. I guess the real question is, did he mean to hang himself to death, or was he imitating something like the above Choking game, and it ended up with deadly consequences? That’s entirely possible.
Really, many an article has been written about the fact that the media has far too many adult overtones, and undertones, and overt explicit violent or adult content for small children to be exposed to it. And certainly, if they are exposed to more mature content, a parent or other adult should be present during the viewing, either to answer any questions, or to open up a dialogue with the child about the things they are seeing on the television screen, so they can understand that having it all happen in make-believe TV land is one thing – in real life, there would be far different consequences, and here’s what they are.
It’s like that Criminal Minds episode: It was geared toward teenagers, who would be most vulnerable to partaking in such idiocy, and to their parents, to let them know that these things actually exist. Even if the teen watched it by himself, he would totally understand the take-home message: it’s dangerous and stupid, and if the tiniest thing goes wrong, you’re dead, game over. But the 8 year old? He might miss some of the nuances or bigger messages in favor of the irrelevant message that “this is what older kids do”. I know that, in this day and age, with more single parent homes or homes where both parents must take on several jobs to keep a roof over the kids heads, it ain’t so easy to monitor every single thing your kid is exposed to, or to find the time within the day to talk to them about it all.
But what if your only option is to either MAKE the time, MAKE the monitoring happen, or the consequences will eventually be disastrous, at best? Isn’t it worth enabling that parent lock on the TV and computer, at the very least?
Of course, there is another possibility, though. What if that tiny, precious boy was actually not as happy as he seemed on the outside? What if inside he was absolutely miserable about something, and hanging himself wasn’t some terrible accident, but what his actual goal was? I mean, take a look at the facts: he told his brother he was going to do it, he waited for the perfect opportunity, when he was alone in the house except for his brother, and his brother was otherwise occupied. And, he was deadly accurate..I would imagine it takes some forethought and planning to tie the knots just right, to get the length right, to get the angles right.
I remember being younger, and basically every emotion and thought I had was brushed off by those older than me. “You don’t know pain” they would tell me. “You don’t even understand what sadness is! You’re just a kid! You don’t have any problems!!” and then start chuckling to one another. But just because they don’t have adult problems doesn’t mean they don’t have problems at all. And for them, the child’s world and the child’s problems are the center of the universe. The world is a new and exciting place, but it’s also foreign and terrifying, and offers much more isolation and much less adult protection than we old fogeys seem to remember. It’s like it’s own little planet, especially in the school system, and for some kids, every day is just a fight for survival, and under every smile a little heart breaks just a tiny piece more.
Obviously within this story there are many details we don’t know. As it stands, both the Police and the family are content with the explanation that this was all some horrible accident. And maybe it was.
But I’ve heard far too many stories now where children were mimicking something that went horribly, like the 12 year old boy that was charged as an adult for mimicking wrestling moves which resulted in his friend dying (check that case out, and the predictable end of it all when you think about the consequence of throwing a 12 year old in jail for life, here). And I’ve heard far too many parents say “not my kid” when referring to anything negative, including the idea of suicide, bullying, criminal activity, or violence.
Let this poor child’s death be a message to parents. There are many reasons that could be to blame for what happened to Julianni. And many of them you, as a parent, could play a large factor in mitigating.
To the family of Julianni Plascencia, I am so very truly sorry for your loss. I pray you and your family find strength for yourselves, and for each other, in this terrible, terrible time.
If you want to do something great to help this family out in their time of need, you can donate to help them out with paying for the funeral, and proper send off, that this precious little boy deserves, by visiting www.giveforward.com.
I hope everyone has a very careful, attentive week this week. No more tragedies.