Online Bullying and Teenage Suicide

The small town I grew up in is in the news. Unfortunately, it’s in a horribly tragic way. It seems that another young, teenage life was taken as a result of bullying. A 13 year old girl took her own life last weekend after being bullied relentlessly at school and on Facebook. It breaks my heart for everyone involved. I can’t imagine the extent of the pain.

I really hate this trend. 4,400 teenagers commit suicide each year and victims of bullying are more likely to be part of these numbers. You hear people argue all of the time that this isn’t a new problem and that bullying has always been a part of growing up. Yes, this argument is true. Bullying has been around for as long as we’ve had kids. However, Facebook and text messaging have not been. Facebook and text messaging have taken bullying to an entirely new place. It’s a place no one was prepared for and one nobody really knows how to attack. Teenagers spend just as much time if not more on Facebook and texting each other than they do interacting with each other in real time.

Here’s the thing: People “say” things in the online environment that they would NEVER ever say if they had to say it face to face.

Back in the day, if you wanted to bully someone, you had to do it with your fists and you had to have the courage to really step out of line by saying mean things directly to another person. And let’s face it, most people shrink from confrontations of this kind. But the typed word, the keypad, and the send button? Well, these weapons don’t require any of the typical social constraints that prevent most people from engaging in vicious behavior.

I am continually appalled at the things that are said in the online environment. And believe me, I spend a significant amount of time here. In addition to my blogging life, I also teach online. And students “say” things to me online that no student would ever dream of saying to me in a traditional classroom setting. I’m horrified on a fairly regular basis by it. Why is it so easy to hit the send button?

I’m at a loss as to how parents and educators address bullying. I really am. I honestly don’t know what the solution is besides monitoring our children’s online behavior. But how do you really do this when every kid has a phone? Sure, you can take away your child’s phone, but you can’t take away their friends’ phones. You can take away their computer time or their lap top at home, but every school is filled with computers. You can set up safeguards and parental guards on computers, but kids are smart. Smarter than most of us are when it comes to technology and they easily get around these. It’s a really complicated issue once you really start getting into it. I don’t have a solution. I wish that I did.

I do, however, have lots of experience dealing with teenagers and suicide. This post has gotten entirely too long, so you will have to come back tomorrow when I follow this up with some helpful tips on suicide prevention and helping teenagers cope with depression related to bullying.

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17 Responses to Online Bullying and Teenage Suicide

  1. Rach says:

    There are no longer safe places for children who are being bullied. Once upon a time when we were growing up, we could go home. Home was safe. You could get a break from the constant barrage of the bullies. Not so anymore.

    We had a young lady in our neighborhood attempt suicide Monday. I was sitting at the kitchen table when two cop cars came flying down the street with sirens blaring followed quickly by an ambulance and fire truck. Now, we live in a quiet neighborhood with only one way in and out. That scene is REALLY uncommon around here.

    This girl is a sophomore in high school and was also a victim of bullying. She was home alone (as she is most days) and a neighbor somehow figured out what was going on–thank goodness. The girl survived and I sincerely hope she is receiving the help she so desperately needs.

    I’m terrified of what the future holds for my girls. I plan on staying home as long as I can so I can be here for them. I try to be open and honest with them and take their concerns and problems seriously so that they’ll always feel comfortable coming to me and talking to me. Beyond that I have no clue what to do. Maybe things will change in the next seven years…yeah right.

  2. Betsy says:

    How do we prepare our children for bullies? My son is first grade, but there is a boy terrorizing there classs. My son has been punched in the troat another child has been chocked. His father is a Doctor and does not seem like the school administration wants to do any thing about it.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      The good news is that I think it is so much easier when they’re younger. In first grade, they can’t torture each other on facebook! When they are young I think it’s important to explain to them that sometimes kids are not nice and what to do if someone is mean to them. What did your son do when he was choked? Did the school handle it appropriately?

      • Betsy says:

        The school made the other kid say he was sorry, but nothing else. My son is very rightous and we have been working with him to ignore little taunts like making faces, but to talk to his teacher about the hitting and choking.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          I understand he is only in first grade, but it seems like the school should have done more than just make him apologize. I hope they are meeting with the parents on a regular basis to try to find ways to better manage his behavior.

          • Buttercup says:

            We’ve run the gammet on bullying since moving from a large city to a charming small town in the midwest…. so much for midwestern values.
            My advice is this~
            1. Find out the school district rules on bullying. This should be found in a school guide or on the district web site.
            2. Connect with the teacher and administrators each and every time there is a situation. If their policy on bullying states…. if one does X, then Z happens, if Z happens a second time, then A happens… hold their feet to the fire to do the right thing. Our children are in public schools and teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards are charged with keeping our kids safe while being educated.
            3. Keep good notes!
            4. If something is misfiring with the teachers and administrators, take it to the superintendent. Make him or her your friend and don’t simply complain~ ask for action and results and revisit when needed.
            5. Ask your school to adopt an anti-bullying campaign. Lots of programs out there.
            6. Call to set up a time to visit with the parents of the bully. If your child can with stand the pressure, take him or her along and show them how to talk things out calmly, ask for change. This is uncomfortable for all, parents and kids alike…. but this can be a huge step to defuse the bully! All kids don’t have to be best friends but they should be respectful of one another.
            7. Lastly, NEVER let your child solve this problem alone. Be there, engaged, beside and behind him/ her. Let them know the family supports them. Too often I hear parents say they leave their child to work it out on their own…. I believe this is a big mistake! Kids are vulnerable, sensitive and inexperienced to navigate these stormy waters. They need guidance.
            8. If the bullying happens via a cell phone or online~ pick up the phone, or get online and tell the bully to stop the behavior and if not, you will be visiting with their parents.
            9. Lasty, if all else fails with the previous points…. start talking about this in a public forum… you may find you are not alone and many parents in your district may have experienced the same. PTO, PTA, Mom’s coffee clubs, Twitter, Facebook….
            Be fair, be accurate and find your voice. There is strength in numbers!

            Know this~ our high school daughter has had some hard knocks and at times, seemed it came from every direction when in middle school. She still suffers from exclusion and suffers from depression. We are engaged with treatment and counseling for such. But~ we’ve watched our lovely daughter grow into a smart, strong woman who can speak up for herself and has become a great advocate for others she sees or knows are being bullied.

            We still worry about her, we’re still behind her and support her through anything~ including mistakes and bumps in the road.

            Best of luck to you and your 1st grader. <3

          • Mommy Psychologist says:

            Thank you for such a thoughtful and helpful response.

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  4. Dawn W says:

    I have never been so upset or maybe the word is disgusted by kids these days. I raise my children the way my mom did. It was always Sir/Ma’am, please/thank you, Mr/Mrs/Ms/Misses, and you never interrupted without excuse me. I was spanked twice in my life because all my mom had to do is look at me and I knew what it meant. Kids today talk to adults like they are friends or “Homies” as they are called now. They curse and beat someone up for shoes call their girlfriends the B word. It is sad because most kids are raised by 2 parents who both have to work or a single parent that might be working 2 jobs to make ends meat or parents who just don’t care. We are loosing too many of our children to suicide who is going to be our future if they don’t have a chance to dream and find themselves?

  5. As a parent, this is so terrifying. I wish I had an answer. I think we all do.

  6. Carolyn says:

    I was terribly bullied as a child/teen for 6 years. It was relentless, but thank goodness there was not such thing as texting, and the internet was so new that few kids had it, let alone a computer, at home. Prank calls and fake invitations were the only thing that could reach past the school yard to get me. I always missed the school bus so I could avoid my bullies, and took the city bus home instead. I never answered the phone at home and always got my sisters to tell anyone who called that I was out. I could hide at home…. I cannot imagine how teens now a days can handle this type of torture! I only hope that I can teach my son how to be strong and confident (unlike me) so that he can avoid being the target of bullies.
    On a related note, if you are interested in information on bullying, etc, there is a great book by Barbara Coloroso called “The Bully, The Bullied and the Bystander”. ( A social worker friend lent me a copy a few years ago and it really helped me see what I endured as a teen and that it was not my fault.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      :( I just can’t even imagine what it must be like to exist in the teenage world with phones and Facebook. I haven’t heard of this book, but I’m going to check it out. I’m always on the lookout for good resources. Thanks.

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  8. Willow says:

    I was bullied as i child, but as you say, back then once you left school, you left the bullying behind as well. When my children were small, i did everything i could to spend as much time at the school as possible, hoping this would help shield my children from the bullying.. in some instances it did, other kids knew me, liked me so they for the most part were kind with my children… My son experienced some issues, he has some learning and behavioural issues, as well as being a very shy boy.. so he did get picked on sometimes.. but he got to come home to safety…. Now i have a granddaugher, she is 3, i am terrified of what she may have to go through once she starts school.. she will not have an escape, cell phones, computers etc, will follow her home.. Her mom (my daughter) is a lesbian, her and her partner are open about it, which they should be, so along with everything else they can be bullied for she has that as well.. My granddaughter knows nothing else, this is normal for her, 2 mommies is what her world is… it kills me to think that one day, some mean spirited person will try to turn her world upside down by making her feel that she is not normal or somehow bad?!! The world can be such a cruel place sometimes… I have thought of trying to homeschool my granddaughter, but in all honesty, i cannot shield her forever…

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I feel fortunate that we live in L.A because homosexuality is completely accepted. Gus doesn’t know a world where there aren’t two mommies or two daddies. I’m grateful for that. Hopefully, your daughter can be the one to introduce others to a bigger world.

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