Bullying Takes Lives, Harms Young People
Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 28, 2012 18:10
We’re a lucky generation. The increasingly well-connected millions don’t have to lose touch with friends. They can share good news and best wishes at the click of a button and feel the many positive aspects of their relationships with an immediacy that people find gratifying and important.
But there’s a dark side to this virtual connectivity, too. The many challenges of adolescence and friendship are multiplied and distorted over the social networks that are now a part of everyday life for most people our age.
In today’s rapid-fire, globe-spanning digital world, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter serve to electrify the mundane and amplify the poignant. These ubiquitous modern networking technologies and those ancient, immortal negative social pressures combined can produce a potentially lethal experience. In the context of bullying, this has clearly had an awful impact on society.
About a month and a half ago, 15 – year-old Amanda Todd posted a video on YouTube, sharing her story about “never-ending” bullying with the world. Amanda explained – silently, using index cards – that her battle against cyber-bullying and bullying at school all started online. She and a few friends, on webcams to “meet and talk to new people,” were enticed by flattery to expose themselves. A year later, she found herself blackmailed by a boy who threatened to expose her further if she didn’t “put on a show.” It only got worse from there.
On Oct. 10, 2012, Amanda Todd took her own life.
I imagine the overwhelming sadness that must consume someone to the point at which they take their own life. I imagine despair simply – or not so simply – catching up and taking over in dark, ugly, and unfair ways. I imagine the worst, and that is exactly what this is. Amanda’s cry for help is so distressed and distressing, it echoes with the preciousness and fragility of life.
The context of Amanda’s story is, of course, broader and scarier. Consider the story of Phoebe Prince, another teenage girl trying to fit in, who took her life three years ago in South Hadley, Mass. after an eerily similar bout of face-to-face cruelty and digital victimization. If nothing else is clear to us after considering these cases together, it should be certain and obvious that online altercations have very real effects, no matter how far removed its perpetrators feel from the impact of their actions.
Consider the words of Amanda Todd and the explicit, human truths that lay behind them:
“I can never get that photo back. It’s out there somewhere.” We live in a world that may make us pay for our mistakes forever.
“I felt like a joke in this world. I thought, ‘Nobody deserves this.’” It used to be that a small town was just that: a small town. Now our small towns have no such borders.
“Why do I get this? I messed up but why follow me?” It’s just like our elders warn us: there’s a painful permanence to the mistakes we make nowadays, online and off, as our worst moments may hound us with the indelible stamp of the internet.
“I was alone,” or “I’m stuck,” or “I wanted to die so bad,” or “Every day I think, ‘Why am I still here?’” What a cruel and ironic truth to realize that this girl had to feel this way in a world that clearly feels such love for her in the wake of her passing.
So where do we go from here? While our generation may well be blessed as inheritors of the digital world, we also have a power that occasionally—and horribly—proves itself beyond us and below us.
Amanda Todd lamented before her sad, untimely death: “I have nobody. I need somebody.” The responsibility this implies is enormous and meaningful: In this day, and in this age, it seems to me that it has never been more important to be somebody for somebody. Every time our fingers touch the keyboard, we ought to remember someone like Amanda Todd.