“I’m killing myself tonight. You did this to me.”
Inside the World of Teenage Confessions. What are East Bay kids saying online?
No. 224 thought about committing suicide the day before junior prom. No. 9 is gay but stayed in the closet after being cyberbullied. No. 390 is in love with her ex, but he doesn’t want her back.
Teens are sharing their deepest, darkest secrets online—where anyone can see. High school Facebook Confessions pages have been popping up for the past year or so, giving students a safe place to talk about their fears without being judged.
Nearly every local school has a page run by students, who use a form to gather anonymous submissions and then post them, identifying the confessor with only a number.
Scrolling the pages offers a window into the glossy but often angst-filled East Bay teen world, full of pressure to make 4.0 grade-point averages, excel in year-round sports, and get accepted into top colleges. Many posts are childish and funny, but others are riveting and shocking. Sometimes, they’re frightening, especially for the parents and teachers who stumble upon them.
The pages are filled with fears about everything from stress to sex to suicide. And they just might be helping to save lives.
The Dougherty Valley High Confessions page, run by three anonymous student moderators, is one of the 680 corridor’s most active, with more than 5,000 confessions to date. About a year ago, one month after the page launched, No. 2,370 wrote: I’m killing myself tonight. You did this to me.
Within minutes, students started to leave comments. The first came from one of the page’s moderators at 9:46 p.m.: Please don’t! Remember that it does get better and your life is valuable!
Students continued to post throughout the night.
9:54 p.m.: Just think of this. You want to kill yourself now, but what about all those adventures waiting there for you to explore them?
10:01 p.m.: I don’t know you, but if you need to talk, feel free to message me.
10:35 p.m.: Whoever you are, trust me when I say there’s at least one person in this world that gives a shit about you.
By the next day, dozens of students had chimed in.
3:46 p.m.: look at the 40 or so people on this thread who all want you to live. thats 40 reasons for you to not kill yourself right there.
The most popular comment, which was liked 123 times by other students who read it, came within minutes after the confession was posted: HEY HEY. DO NOT KILL YOURSELF. The commenter sympathized with his anonymous peer, saying he had gone through the same thing: pull yourself through these tough times, and i tell you, it will get better. i was able to pull through, and i have gotten better since then.
“Allison,” one of the students who runs the DV High Confessions page, takes submissions that touch on suicide, self-harm, and other life-or-death issues very seriously. She posts them as soon as she can, so students can reach out before it’s too late.
“It’s scary when you realize that it may be someone you know or are even close to who feels that way,” Allison writes via Facebook message, protecting her identity. “[Suicide is] a scary topic, and it’s hard to accept that someone can be in such a dark place. And you can feel so helpless not knowing who they are or what you can do.”
On a recent foggy afternoon, California High junior Noor sits in the Danville Library, working on her homework. When the topic of her school’s Facebook Confessions page, CHS Confessions, comes up, her brown eyes grow wider. “People are on it all the time,” she says in an excited whisper, hunched over her algebra book.
The posts Noor has seen on her school’s page run the gamut from shocking to sarcastic, but the controversial ones are what get people talking in the halls, especially when it’s obvious that a post is about a particular person.
She has never made a confession herself, but sometimes she leaves comments. “I think people were being really mean one day,” she says, smiling shyly. “I told them to stop being so mean.”
For the most part, Cal’s Confessions page is being used for good. On several occasions, Noor’s friends have posted about being worried about getting into a good college. “People usually comment and say, ‘Oh, it’s OK. It’ll work out. You’ll do fine,’” she says. “And it makes them feel better.”
Recently, Noor commented on a post to comfort a student who was feeling depressed. CHS Confessions No. 2,456: My mind is about to break. I refuse to hurt myself physically anymore. But I’ve never stopped dying mentally. I finally have good friends, but I don’t want them to see this part of me. Noor replied: If you have good friends and feel like this, you should let them know how you feel sometimes, that’s the point of friends right?
At Cal High, “everyone knows” who runs the confessions page, Noor says, because the moderator told a friend who told her friends, who told everyone else. But that’s not usually the case. Dougherty Valley’s moderators, across town from Cal, are tight lipped about their identities, saying if students were to know who they are, it might influence what kinds of posts get submitted to the page.
To the DV High moderators, the page is a place where students can express themselves and decompress from the stresses of teenage life. Allison created DV High Confessions one year ago after two other pages were shut down—likely due to moderator fatigue and issues with spam on the page.
“I felt like these confessions pages, despite the fact that they stirred up drama, were a great way for students to kind of voice their thoughts and feelings,” she writes. “These days, there’s a crazy amount of stress that just comes with being a teenager and in high school alone, so being anonymous makes it easier for people to express themselves.”
Ask them, and teens will tell you that the pages are captivating, just for fun, or plain dumb. As trivial as some kids say they are, though, the pages may serve an important purpose for young people turning into adults, says Jason Brand, a Berkeley psychotherapist who specializes in new media.
“I think Facebook has become more like the utility that we all use, and that teens have found a way to use it to ask real questions about identity, which is what teenagers should be asking,” he says.
From looking at the pages for East Bay high schools, Brand gets the sense that the teens who post and comment know that cyberbullying—such as calling specific students names—doesn’t fly when anyone could be watching. The seriousness of
some confessions is also a reminder to adults that top-notch information about mental health issues like depression and suicide needs to be readily available to teens online so they can access and share it with one another.
And those are all good things, Brand says. “The anonymous web is going to be something that [adolescents] are
growing up with. And anytime you have a space where students are expressing themselves and using that space responsibly, adults should pay attention to that—and stay out of the way as much as they can.”
The challenge with reaching out via social media, though, lies in teaching teens how important it is to also make face-to-face connections, says Lauren Brown, a Danville school resource officer who is also a licensed family and marriage therapist.
“I worry about not teaching them to reach out to tangible people to talk about these issues, and that they feel they can only get validated by likes or clicks,” she says. “It’s about balancing and making sure we’re also teaching them how to do this in an interpersonal way.”
Many of the teens who turn to the web say they are feeling lonely or rejected. AVHS (Amador Valley High School) Confessions No. 981: Lately i feel like im not even a part of my friends group. Like whenever im there they just talk to me because they feel bad. Im not really included and am kind of a “second thought.”
Some are grappling with first love. Northgate Confessions No. 77: I just want him back, and this is the only place he might ever see it. I miss you.
Others are pissed at their parents. DV High Confessions No. 5,043: i dont care about my parents and i dont care if they miss me.
Then, there are the more dire posts, talking of drug use, promiscuity, and crime. Moraga Confessions No. 248: I used to do lines on my study hall desk while [the teacher] was looking right at me.
But why post it for the world to see?
“People like to share things anonymously and say things they wouldn’t be able to in real life. Love confessions, funny jokes, secrets, heartfelt stories,” writes the moderator of Foothill High Confessions via Facebook message. “Teenagers tend to be incredibly judgmental; with Foothill Confessions and anonymity, they don’t have to worry about anything.”
Our teens do seem to be more worried and stressed than previous generations, mostly about their futures, says Jason Lechner, a Walnut Creek therapist. This is especially the case in the wealthy East Bay suburbs, where many teens feel pressure to get into good colleges and become successful like their parents.
Talking about these struggles via confessions pages could be compared to a 12-step meeting, where anonymity and honesty are also key, says Lechner, who specializes in adolescents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
“The captain of the football team could say, ‘I hate myself,’ ” Lechner says. “And if he just walked in and said that to a lot of other students at school, they might
say, ‘Your life is perfect.’ The pages could give him that shield. He can get it off his chest without there being some kind of crisis response.”
Sometimes, the confessions teens make are as banal as what their parents post on Facebook, but even the most mundane interactions help build a cybercommunity where teenagers can find common ground.
Monte Vista Confessions No. 392: Honestly, the parking lot monitor ladies are mean. Just straight up mean.
“People post a lot of things that other students can relate to,” writes Allison, the DV High moderator. “Personally, I can read a lot of these and think, ‘Wow, they just read my thoughts exactly.’ ”
For many teens, watching these interactions play out online inspires a feeling of solidarity that impacts their student community off-line. “DV has always had a lot of separate groups of people who don’t exactly get along, but it seems like when someone is actually in need of help, we all kind of unite and try to do something,” she writes.
After all, that is why the pages exist—to serve as a gathering place where teens can vent without being reprimanded or judged, and where they can remind one another that they’re not so alone.
“Life is hard, and it gets to everyone at one point or another,” Allison writes. “Even if you don’t post and just read, it doesn’t take much to realize that there are other people who feel the way you do.”
Confessions 101: How It Works
“Allison,” one of the moderators of DV High Confessions, created the page last year and invited students to like it. Then, she created a form using Google Docs that allows students to anonymously submit confessions for her to post. She started with few rules: no spam, no hate, no personal attacks.
Soon, she realized she couldn’t handle the volume of submissions on her own, so she told a friend, and the two formed a system. Together, they created more guidelines: no posts that singled people out, or were likely to start drama or rumors. They also decided to remove anything upon request.
All confessions pages have one or a few moderators, known as admins. Posts are identified only by a chronological number, keeping the person who is confessing completely anonymous. Most pages include disclaimers saying the page is not affiliated with the school or its leadership. Some pages also have information on how to seek professional help.
Moraga Confessions, created for Campolindo High students, includes resource information for suicide, substance abuse, and assault, as well as the phone numbers for school counseling offices.
Through the pages, teens provide each other with a shoulder to lean on. Even more important, says Walnut Creek marriage and family therapist Jason Lechner, is their encouraging each other to seek help when needed. “You want people to look at these pages as a first step to getting help, but not an only step,” he says.
Do you think Facebook Confession pages are a good place for teens to share their thoughts?