Priest Warns of Dangers of Social Media After 12-Year-Old Girl Records Her Suicide

The girl’s phone, which has a video recording of her death, is in the hands of law enforcement.

A woman browses on her cellphone.
A woman browses on her cellphone. (photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash)

In the wake of the tragic death of Milagros, a 12-year-old girl who died Jan. 13 in Santa Fe province in Argentina and recorded her death on her cellphone, a priest reflected on the dangers of social media and how to help children have “strong self-esteem.”

Milagros’ cause of death was “mechanical asphyxiation by hanging,” and according to the results of the autopsy “there are no signs of abuse or intervention by third parties.” Her motives are still unknown.

Therefore the case is being investigated as an apparent suicide. The girl’s phone, which has a video recording of her death, is in the hands of law enforcement.

Initially her death was thought to be linked to the viral TikTok “blackout challenge,” which consists of holding your breath until you faint.

The initial examination of the mobile phone found no evidence linking her death with the TikTok challenge. However, judicial sources told the La Nación newspaper that the history and activity that Milagros maintained on social media will be analyzed.

Nor were traces of a supposed video call with her classmates found, in which Milagros could have been urged to carry out the challenge, a version that her relatives initially gave to local media.

Milagros’ aunt, Laura Luque, warned on social media about what took place “so that it doesn’t happen to any child and neither to the child’s family what we’re experiencing now.”

Father Leandro Bonnin, a priest from the Archdiocese of Paraná who serves in San Roque in Chaco province, reflected on the tragedy in comments to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency.

“I think it’s important to let ourselves be ‘hit hard’ by these stories, and that it not come off as just another piece of news,” he said.

The Ambivalence of Technology

The priest warned about “the ambivalence” of technological advances such as cellphones and social media, which while “having a great capacity to make our lives ‘better’ at the same time mean the appearance of unprecedented risks.”

So “without the intention of blaming anyone,” he asked, “is it appropriate for children to have their own cellphone? Are they prepared to interact on social media? Is it appropriate that they use them without control or oversight?”

The Need to Fit In

Father Bonnin pointed to the need to “fit in” or to “belong” that often puts pressure on children: “Children need to know how to recognize limits they should not cross,” he noted.

“Many times it’s necessary to have the autonomy to say ‘no,’ as happens, on the other hand, with the consumption of substances and other risky activities,” he said.

The priest called on adults to work so that children have “strong self-esteem, based on self-knowledge and the discovery of their own values and qualities.”

“They need to know, from a young age, that they are unique, valuable, unrepeatable… and that to be happy they don’t have to do ‘what everyone else is doing’ or always ‘go with the flow,’” he counseled.

Don’t Just Love Them: Make Them Feel Loved

Along these lines, he clarified that the youngest children have “‘self-esteem’ and ‘self-worth’ if they feel and know that they are esteemed and valued.”

“This is shown in the family, especially with the quality time that parents choose to spend with them,” he said.

Parents have to “love them very much,” but it’s also necessary that they “feel loved,” that “we like to be with them, that we appreciate their lives,” Father Bonnin explained.

The priest also encouraged reducing screen time: “Let’s go back to spending time face to face, looking each other in the eye... and also playing, hugging, with physical contact.”

Asked about the role of the Church, Father Bonnin considered it important to burn into the hearts of children the certainty that “it’s very good that I exist.”

Likewise, he called for reinforcing in them the awareness that “they are valuable because they are the image and likeness of God, not because of what they do, nor because of what they achieve, nor because of how they dress or look.”

Providing Quality Time and a Sense of Belonging

He also shared the hope that families, together with the Church, can create an environment of belonging, situations and places “where children are loved and accepted as they are.”

For Father Bonnin, it’s also important to offer opportunities for prayer, where children and adolescents who may feel alone “can discover a healthy and strong bond with God the Father, with Jesus as Friend, with the Holy Spirit who guides them... with Mary’s love.”

Seeking Relief in Jesus

Finally, addressing Milagros’ family, the priest recalled that Jesus said: “Come to me, you who are afflicted and overwhelmed, and I will give you relief.”

“In the heart of Jesus you can find relief from your pain, and you can receive the grace of hope of eternal life for your daughter.”

“In the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the longing that trusts in God’s mercy to one day be able to meet her again in heaven can be reborn,” he concluded.