Mom Says Social Media 'Prank' Caused 11-Year-Old's Tragic Suicide

boy who committed suicide after social media prank
Katrina Goss/GoFundMe

Social media can be a major force for good. We can use it to connect with people all over the world, raise awareness, and contribute to important causes. But social media also plays a scary role in cyber-bullying, nefarious online activities, and even heartbreaking tragedies. A Michigan mom is mourning the loss of her 11-year-old son this week after she says he committed suicide following a cruel online prank by his girlfriend.

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Katrina Goss claims her son, Tysen Benz, was "manipulated" into harming himself after his 13-year-old girlfriend faked her own suicide online. "She told him she was going to kill herself and used other friends' social media accounts to put forth further fake proof that she did so," Goss told CBS News.

Following the prank, Goss claims her son told the people involved that he was planning to commit suicide but no one reached out to her. She found him in his bedroom, unresponsive, and he was rushed to the hospital, where he spent three weeks on life support before passing away. Now, Tysen's mom is desperately pleading with other parents to carefully monitor their kids' social media presence.

More from CafeMom: This Is Why I Won't Let My Daughter Use Social Media

"I urge families to speak out, reach out and communicate with your children about life's precious gift and the dangers of the internet and texting and how telecommunications can have the same effects as speaking face to face," Goss wrote on a GoFundMe page that's been set up in Tysen's name. "I want Tysen to be remembered as he was and all the joy he's brought to everyone. Keep his spirit alive by standing strong & fighting against social media bullying!"

A juvenile involved in the prank has been charged with malicious use of telecommunication services and using a computer to commit a crime, though police have declined to release any names, since minors are involved. Still, even an investigation and criminal charges likely do little to ease this mom's heartache.

Social media leaves kids vulnerable to so many harmful pranks and messages, especially when suicidal ideation is involved. In 2016, Newsweek published a groundbreaking report on suicide clusters -- instances where multiple people in one area take their own lives within a short time period. They cited research by Julie Cerel, president-elect of the American Association of Suicidology, that shows people who know a suicide victim are almost twice as likely to develop suicidal thoughts as the general population, and tweens and teens are particularly vulnerable, especially when they're exposed to harmful things on social media.

More from CafeMom: 13 Apps That Make It Impossible for Teens to be Sneaky Online

Obviously, not everyone exposed to suicide or suicidal thoughts will decide to take his or her own life. But, so-called "pranks" like the one allegedly played on Tysen Benz can have serious and devastating consequences. Social media opens up a world where kids can be exposed to so many scary, inappropriate, and damaging things. The best we can possibly do for our kids is talk about and monitor their presence online, and do everything we can to eliminate cyber-bullying. It's only through education and awareness for all teens and parents that we can prevent more of these horrific tragedies from taking place.

If you or someone you know has expressed suicidal thoughts, please let them know they are not alone. Text START to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at www.sprc.org.

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