(WGHP) — When you have a child who is top of their class for years, an accomplished athlete and popular with her friends, that’s not the kind of kid most parents worry about. 

But Lily Butler was adept at hiding her problems, especially as she entered high school.

“She started to push friends away and not want to have activities, not want to have birthday parties, not want to have sleepovers, was on her phone…social media,” her mother Carol said.

Research is beginning to show how damaging social media can be to younger people, especially teenage girls.

“I would call that the numer one parenting battle of our age,” said Alicia Brown, who is a counselor at the Oaks Therapeutic Community in Pleasant Garden. “It’s number one challenge for me…as a parent…then also from a mental health perspective and a counseling perspective because the way that it affects each child is so different.”

Although Brown never worked directly with Lily, she has more than a decade of counseling experience with high school-aged kids. Lily’s case is particularly tragic because her eating disorder eventually led to other issues.

In the summer of 2021, Lily took her own life. Her parents had her in counseling and treatment for several years and were even told by the lead counselor that, “If anyone can beat this, Lily can.”

Brown says she sees a particular challenge with social media because it skews the reality of kids’ lives.

“One struggle I see is an unrealistic idea of what it means to be well and to be happy,” brown said.  “So especially in our culture, we can think if we’re not having an overly-joyful, my life is perfect day that I’m depressed or I’m not well, and that’s equally unrealistic. We’re all going to have low moments, but it’s those drastically low moments that happen over and over…that we have to address.”

Brown says the statistics back up how damaging all that can be.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death in ages 10 to 14; third leading cause of death in ages 15 to 24,” she said.

What amazed Lily’s parents was what they found out after Lily had passed.

“At Lily’s wake, there were three people that came through the line. Three mothers said, ‘I want you to know your daughter saved my daughter’s life. She was going to commit suicide, and Lily talked them out of it,” Lily’s father Chip said.

It can be hard to understand how Lily could find it within herself to help others in that dire situation but couldn’t pull herself out of the same thing.

“When it’s your struggle and it’s your brain, it’s more difficult for your prefrontal cortex to process what that struggle is,” Brown said. “It’s easier to do for someone outside of your body, so I believe she did that…then when came to her own and her brain was so malnourished from the eating disorder…she just had a very difficult time coming to rational thought of how to make it through.”

Hear more from Brown on what she recommends parents do when their children are struggling in this edition of The Buckley Report.