Central students turn to the “Red Hawk Confessions” Facebook page to admit secrets, stories and more

It’s not uncommon for high school students to have a Facebook page; with approximately 1.15 billion active monthly users, Facebook attracts about one in seven people in the world to create an account and keep it up to date. Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of “likeable” pages that bring people together through common interests.

With over 1,100 likes, the student-run Red Hawk Confessions Facebook page encourages students to share their deepest secrets through an anonymous forum. Confessions go through a Google document site where they are anonymously sent to student admins who prefer to remain unknown to the student body. Other students are welcome to comment on these posts with words of advice or past experience.

Post topics range from secret crush confessions all the way to asking for advice about serious issues such as having suicidal thoughts and self-harming.

“I found the [page] scrolling though Facebook because one of my friends commented about it,” junior Blake Cortez said. “I found the posts really fun and interesting. The serious confessions are my favorite because they show how kids feel [about] different situations they go through. It also shows others how they are not alone in their problems.”

Though enticing, a lot of the more sincere confessions come with a sense of guilt the reader might feel afterward. Unlike Cortez, students like junior Lottie Brooks find some of the confessions hard to read.

“I disagree with some of the posts,” Brooks said. “Some people that post on there genuinely need help or confess [to] suicidal thoughts, so they should be seeing a counselor, not a computer screen.”

School administrators argue that one of the major flaws of the page is that there is no way for readers to tell whether or not the posts tell of true hardships or not. Since the site is not associated with or run by Central’s administration, students see Red Hawk Confessions as a comfortable outlet  due to the company of their peers.

“Students only use [Red Hawk Confessions] because it’s genuine, uncensored advice from other students at the school,” Brooks said. “Central staff is very good at making it clear that there are many people you can go to with a problem of  any kind, however I think students want to hear what other students have to say – a real opinion that isn’t what people are being paid to say.”

Dean of Students Lisa Xagas was involved with the initial setup of Tip203, a server students can access in order to report concerning situations so that they may be handled in a respectful and positive manner. Like Red Hawk Confessions, anonymity is a factor when reporting incidents, and mediators like Xagas handle the task of discerning the truth from false leads on a daily basis.

“Anytime something is reported anonymously, you have to question whether or not it’s true,” Xagas said. “People say things that they would never say if they had to look someone in the eye, and that certainly causes more harm than good.”

Over the past few months, there has been a surge of posts regarding self-harm and suicidal thoughts. During a recent visit to Central, award-winning author and therapist Chris Crutcher addressed the posts on Red Hawk Confessions as a positive outlet for kids looking for acceptance.

“If you live long enough to be a teenager, there’s stuff going on that you’re real careful about and things you don’t like about yourself,” Crutcher said. “It’s always healthy to be able to say what your truth is, and school isn’t a real good place to do that.”

Crutcher also believes the anonymity for posting is appealing to students with issues due to the non-judgmental atmosphere.

“We don’t like to say the things that we don’t like about ourselves,” Crutcher said. “The ‘power control’ problems with things like self-harm and eating disorders are the most embarrassing ones to talk about because they show vulnerability.”

Some believe anonymity regarding such serious topics has more negative effects than positive. Xagas believes nameless posts can lead to falsities and serious issues being unintentionally ignored.

“It’s much easier to write something that you don’t have to attach your name to,” Xagas said. “There are a lot of things we can do to help people in those situations, but if we don’t know who [the person] is, we can’t do anything. Posting anonymously to a site isn’t going to help the situation.”

The spike in posts about suicide and self-harm have left many wondering whether or not the posters seek help from professionals outside the forum. Although Central has no exact statistic regarding a change in the amount of students talking to administration about their problems since the page was launched, school social workers have seen an increase in their workload.

“As of today, one in four people struggle with a mental health issue of some kind,” social worker Amy Barth said. “There has definitely been an increase in students’ need to talk about things.”

Crutcher perceives Red Hawk Confessions as an outlet most kids don’t have access to.

“Not many people get to go see a therapist,” Crutcher said. “If you don’t have money, you have to get sent there, and you have to make your problems sound bad enough so that you could get sent there. The danger is not having a place to tell your story. The more times that I took chances to tell my own story, I started realizing the healing power of it.”

Many students experience issues severe enough that hospitalization is considered. Karen Lemanski, director of student services, introduced a new staff position– the Dean of Interventions. Pete Flaherty, the new dean of interventions, assists students with their issues and helps them transition back into high school after hospitalization.

Flaherty states that in the 2011-12 school year, 97 students were hospitalized for mental health issues. Although the exact number was not released, Flaherty said Central saw a decrease in the amount of hospitalizations in the years since the Dean of Interventions was implemented. These statistics include all types of students, regardless of socioeconomic background, race, gender, etc.

The implementation of Tip203 also helps to “prevent problems before they get worse,” especially because many students report issues of self-harming or suicidal friends before further damage can occur, according to Flaherty.

Red Hawk Confessions is monitored by students on a regular basis, but administrators warn that negative posts could lead to the site’s demise.

“The page was meant to be a little more light-hearted and fun, but there has to be a line drawn as to what will be posted and what won’t,” Xagas said. “I certainly think that if [Red Hawk Confessions] continues with suicide postings or mentioning names of people and staff, [the administration] will move to shut the page down.”

The Central Times attempted to secure an interview with a Red Hawk Confessions administrator, but was unsuccessful.