Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Too Many Layers of Horror in The Latest Teen Suicide

Another suicide because of bullying.
All this talk about "Bullying is wrong" and "It's time to stop bullying" but no one is actually doing anything. When that photo was circulating around Rehtaeh Parson's former high school, why did no one stand up and say, "Stop! This is wrong." More than that, why did no one stand up and say, "Stop! This is criminal." Isn't that what every student is hearing in the anti-bullying campaigns? Isn't that what they are being told to do? The campaigns aren't working because the bullying is not ending.
On two levels, nothing is changing: We still blame the victim, and we still don't speak up against the bullies. People are giving lip-service to ant-bullying but not actually taking action. Because taking action is hard and it's so much easier to be blind and deaf to what is happening to someone else (We've lost the ability to ask: What if this was happening to MY daughter?) Now the government is taking on anti-bullying and still nothing is changing. You know why? Two reasons: Parents aren't doing their job, and our obsession with social media.
Yet there are at least two layers of wrong here, one more awful than the other. First of all, there is a rape. Second of all, there is malicious bullying. Rehtaeh Parson was the victim TWICE (although really, there was no end, no finite number to her victimization). No one did anything about what happened to her at that party and no one did anything about the bullying. What she went through is so unimaginably horrific, so beyond any woman's nightmares, let alone a teenaged girl, that she needed to focus on her healing and on retribution against those who hurt her. She did not need to focus on -- and be obsessed by -- what was being said about her by people who didn't know her, who didn't believe her, who didn't support her. The community that allowed that to happen to her was not the community to whom she could turn for help. She needed real, caring human beings, not comments and status updates and gigabytes of hate.
Which begs a question I hate to ask: Why was she still accessible by texting, by Facebook? She was being tormented by the very thing she and her parents had control over -- her phone and Facebook. Why did no one say, "Don't allow anyone access to you. Don't give them a way to reach you." It absolutely boggles my mind to read that she continued to have a Facebook account up until the day she died.

I have the nerve to ask that question because I have a faint idea what cyberbullying can be like. My scale is very tiny so on a large scale, I can't imagine Rehtaeh's devastation.
My husband was slandered on Facebook last summer. We don't have Facebook accounts so we weren't receiving the information ourselves and for that, I am grateful. Knowing how obsessed I became, as an adult and without my own account, I can't imagine how it would have taken over my life if I had been able to access what "everyone" was saying/repeating for weeks, months on end. For us, the best choice was to not only ignore the smear campaign but also say, "Don't tell me anything. I don't care," and our lack of social media involvement made that possible. It saved our sanity because we couldn't control what other people said but we could control what we allowed into our life.

Parents, please: You are your child's one and only defense in this brave new social media world. Not your kids' friends; not teachers or principals; YOU. You can take your kid out of the community that's hurting her but if you don't get rid of the phone and get rid of the Facebook, etc. accounts, the community, along with the abuse and the harassment, comes with you. It's not about being "the bad guy", it's not about making your kid love you -- it's about keeping your child safe and protected and sane in this brave new world that isn't even spitting out the bones of those it eats anymore.
The suicides are not going to stop as long as the stupidity about phones and social media continues. By allowing children uncontrolled and life-consuming access to phone and social media, parents aren't empowering their children; they are endangering them.
It is possible to live without a cell phone and without social media so perhaps it's time for our kids to live, and live a long time, without them.

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