By now, you’ve probably seen the Facebook pages and statuses, or read about her in the paper. On Wednesday, a 15-year-old Canadian girl named Amanda Todd committed suicide after enduring years of bullying at the hands of her classmates. She was stalked and blackmailed by someone who manipulated her into exposing her chest on webcam when she was 12. Despite switching schools, she was constantly tormented by various students who verbally abused her, beat her up, and relentlessly harassed her.
One month ago, Amanda posted her story on Youtube – it’s an incredibly upsetting video to watch, even more so knowing how things ended. Seeing a fifteen year old girl sharing so much pain and the fact that she took to Youtube to say that she needed somebody is heartbreaking.
Whenever a tragedy like this occurs, it seems we collectively clutch our pearls and wonder how kids could be so mean, then we Like a remembrance page on Facebook and move on. Maybe, if it crosses our mind that morning, we wear a certain colour t-shirt (pink of blue for Amanda, this Monday) for one day. This is not enough. If we truly want to honour Amanda’s life and the amount of strength she put forth, we need to stop acting surprised when this happens and start dealing with the root cause.
We teach kids nowadays not to sext, or send naked photos, or write about their drunken mistakes on Facebook, because the Internet never forgets. But what about bullying – what repercussions are there for kids who harass each other, who urge their classmates to kill themselves?
“I think we should have a national conversation about whether or not we should criminalize cyber-bullying,” says British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. “We tend to deal with bullying as though it’s just another kind of dispute resolution. You can’t do that with bullying because you’re not talking about a dispute, you are talking about a perpetrator and a victim. The perpetrator needs to be punished and the victim needs to be supported. That’s the fundamental disconnect we have.”
Internet bullying is incredibly common these days – it can be anonymous, relentless, and nearly impossible to punish. It affects and is perpetrated adults as well, but can be particularly insidious with teenagers. Social networking is a fundamental part of their generation, and with schools essentially unable to regulate it, the only responsibility falls onto the parents and the child. I was a teenage girl when social media first grew in popularity, so I know firsthand how easy it is to hide your activities from your parents. But if teenagers were held responsible for the heartless and depraved things they posted when bullying each other, would that deter them? Possibly. I’m not sure about the legalities of criminalizing cyber-bullying, but I would be interested to see a conversation start about it.
For us as adults, we need to listen to teenagers when they open up – if you’re a parent, an aunt, a babysitter, or involved with young people in any way, remember how hard being young can be. Kids and teens are so often trivialized or dismissed – listen to them, recognize that their problems are different than yours but still valid, and act. Many friends of mine who were bullied in high school told their teachers, only to be told to deal with it themselves. One friend went to a counsellor for depression, who told her that she was just being dramatic. These responses resonate with young people, enough to discourage them from opening up again. And if you know or see younger relatives or friends who are bullying others, talk to them about it. Don’t dismiss it as drama, let them know why you’re concerned and go from there.
As for Amanda’s case, police are currently collecting tips to proceed with an investigation into the bullying and harassment that she endured. Her online stalker is unknown at this time, though they are looking – police aren’t sure if it was a classmate or predator. Amanda left her mother a video message on her cell phone just before she died, though her mother has not yet watched it. Her mother’s wish is for Amanda’s passing is to help other teens find strength, saying “I have lost one child, but know she wanted her story to save 1,000 more.”
Written by Emma Tarver