Disclaimer: I’m going to say some things here that will likely make me sound heartless and cruel. Please know that is not my intent. I welcome constructive comments and criticism and am willing to dialogue at the end of this post.
I recently saw a report on the CBS Evening News about a New Jersey family that is suing their school district after their 12-year-old daughter’s suicide. The family is attempting to hold the school accountable for the cyberbullying that led to their daughter’s death.
Before I get into my opinion about this entire situation, let me say that this story breaks my heart. I cannot imagine what these parents are having to deal with in the wake of burying their little girl.
That being said, is it right for this family, in their grief, to point a finger at the school district? I get it. Their child is dead. If someone close to me passes away of anything other than old age or natural causes, I would want to be able to put the blame on someone. I think it’s a natural reaction.
But is the school really at fault?
Watching the story, and even in reading a shortened version on the CBS website, it was emphasized that cyberbullying is what led to this girl’s decision to take her own life. I’m sorry, but what school in this country can control what children are posting on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram?
I’ve only worked in one school district in the time since social media became a thing and the word “cyberbullying” entered our vocabulary. But I know that district has restricted access to all available social media on the schools’ networks. I know this because it kept me from checking Facebook on my laptop during down times in the day. I know I can’t assume that all schools have the same sort of policy toward social media, but I feel like the majority do.
Hear me out: I’m not attempting to dismiss cyberbullying. Children are cruel. They will say and do anything they can to make themselves feel good about themselves or to make them look clever in the eyes of their peers. This sort of behavior is not limited to the classroom or the playground. I daresay it’s a lot easier for kids to bully their victims when it’s done online because they get a sense that they’re hiding behind some form of digital anonymity. Sort of like when people leave scathing reviews for restaurants on Yelp. There are a lot of things written on the screen that I’d wager would never be said to a restaurant owner’s face.
Here are some statistics, according to Bullying Statistics…
- Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying.
- More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
- Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs.
- Cyberbullying affects all races.
- Cyberbullying victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and to consider suicide.
Just to be clear, I am in no way dismissing this family’s claim that cyberbullying led to their daughter’s decision to end her life. I simply question the school’s role in cyberbullying.
According to the CBS report, the family attempted to have the school step in prior to their child’s suicide. It appears that they wanted the school to find a way to end the cyberbullying that was taking place. Again, I feel that this is not the school’s mandate.
While the majority of the problem came from cyberbullying, the original report I saw on television did mention that there was some bullying happening in person, as well as via text message.
The in-person bullying, yes, should have been addressed by the school. But the report almost makes this form of bullying sound like an afterthought. And, on that front, the report ended by saying that the school district has gone above and beyond in its attempts to combat bullying on school grounds.
Should schools take initiative to discourage cyberbullying? Absolutely. Should they be held responsible when children get home from school and post horrible things about their peers on Instagram? Absolutely not.
Who should be held responsible for a child’s behavior, on or offline, once the school day is over? I really hope I don’t have to answer that question. I really hope it’s obvious.
Again, I get it. This is a grieving family. They’re looking for someone to blame. The school is an easy target. But, if it were me, I’d be looking at my kid’s social media history. I’d be looking at the names of the kids who were posting horrible things that were having such a deeply painful effect on my child. And then I’d have my attorney contact those kids’ parents.
Actually, the mean, vindictive side of me would want the punishment to fit the crime and turn the tables on those cyberbullies by spreading horrible things about them on the internet. But that’s why there’s a big difference between vengeance and justice.
But let me point out, too, that this little girl was receiving mean text messages from her peers as well as suffering from cyberbullying. When they mentioned that in the initial report, I literally screamed at the TV, “Why does your 12-year-old have a cell phone?! And why do the kids who are picking on her have her number?!”
Maybe my understanding of the text message is all wrong. Maybe they’re talking about direct messages through Twitter or Facebook or some other form of social media. Still, if there’s ever an argument against kids having their own phones at too young an age, it’s this.
Please, don’t misunderstand my purpose with this blog post. Believe that I have the deepest sympathy for this family and, as I said earlier, my heart breaks over their loss. I simply question the validity of their claim against their local school district.
I’m not a parent, so I’m sure it can seem pretty smug of me to give advice when I don’t have any children of my own. But, I implore all the parents out there, GET INVOLVED IN YOUR KIDS’ LIVES! The closer you are to your children, the more likely they are to let you know when something isn’t right. The closer you are to your children, the more likely they are to pick up the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. The closer you are to your children, the more likely they are to feel the legitimate validation they seek and the less likely they are to seek validation through tearing others down. And, by closer, I don’t mean helicopter parenting. I don’t mean policing them 24/7. I mean have an actual relationship where you can both be honest with one another.