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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