Calling 911 in the age of video-driven social media

By: Jason Small

How a 911 text alert put a mother into action and the tough choices our kids face in today’s world during emergencies.


“Phone number ending in 7503 just called 911” reads the text on Kay Abron’s phone. She’s sitting on her sofa watching soap operas, part of her normal daily routine to relax after work. 7503 is the phone number for her 13-year-old son, Michael. A short time ago, he said he was going to the park to play basketball with friends.

Kay tries to call Michael. As the fourth attempt goes straight to voicemail she jumps into her car to drive the short distance to the playground.

Photo of Michael

Kay Abron’s son, Michael

Arriving at the park she’s relieved to see him walking towards her. He is already on the phone with 911. A young boy lays on the ground of the basketball court behind him, unresponsive with eyes wide open. He had fallen during a jump shot, hitting his head hard.

But what Kay realized next came as a shock.

Arriving at the park she’s relieved to see him walking towards her. He is already on the phone with 911.


“There were at least 30 kids standing around and most of them were using their phones to record video. My son was the only one calling for help,” Kay shares.

Kay took over the 911 call from her son to do what she could to help. Heartbroken for the child, she called his mother to let her know her son was transported to the hospital.

Later, he would be diagnosed with a concussion and make a full recovery, returning to school two weeks later.The first responders told Kay that Michael was a huge part of helping to save the injured boy’s life. If the call came later, or not at all, the injury could have become life-threatening.

“I’ve always told my boys that if they see trouble they should call 911 first. Call me after you’ve already gotten help, because that could be the difference between life and death. I’m glad he ignored my calls to reach him -- he was on the phone talking with the dispatcher.”

Photo of Kay and Michael

Kay and her son, Michael

The world our kids live in

Kay’s concern illustrates the new realities and difficult choices kids face in today’s world of video-driven social media. The varieties of scenarios our kids face make the conversation around this behavior a complex subject dependent on many factors and circumstances.

Increasingly, emergencies and tragic events are being shared in real-time and each event can vary in complexity, severity and publicity. In some cases, like Michael’s, the right thing to do is more evident. In others, public opinion may still be developing on a case-by-case basis.

Outspoken critics voice concerns that kids should be calling 911 instead of posting images and videos.  But in certain instances the kids are also pushing back by saying that point of view is distorted.

Some youth experiencing these tragedies point out that when they see 911 is already being notified, they turn to texting and calling parents – others also choose to share what’s happening on their social media profiles. Public opinion on recent tragic events seems to share the general sentiment that this real-time social media sharing can also help create change, as people are able to directly witness these events in social media.

It’s easy to understand how and why some circumstances are very different than others.  Regardless of your point of view, it’s easy for us all to agree that our kids face a complex reality in today’s world.

Verizon hosted a recent podcast focused on Parenting in the Digital World with Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute.

We asked Balkam for any guidance that can help parents and kids navigate today’s video-driven social media world, when faced with emergency situations.

Balkam started by setting context. “Technology has given kids the power to document every moment, both good and bad. Teaching them how to react in an emergency comes down to conversations that have taken place beforehand. The best thing parents can do is already have an ongoing discussion with their child about how to keep themselves and others safe, online and off.”

While the list of considerations, scenarios and impacts are almost limitless here are three helpful tips for parents to guide their school-age kids in this challenging world:

  1. Talk with your kids frequently about what to do in an emergency. Use real life examples as a way to start a conversation about what they would do.
  2. Be clear about what you do (and don’t) want them to do in extreme situations.
  3. Express your confidence in them to make the best choice they can.

For additional guidance on helping your child establish a healthy relationship with technology you can listen to our recent podcast, “Parenting in the Digital World,” with Stephen Balkam.

For related media inquiries, please contact story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

About the author(s): 

Jason Small focuses on storytelling for the Verizon communications team. His background includes online and offline roles in digital marketing and communications within corporate, agency and startup environments across more than 20 brands.

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