Cyberbullying and Suicide

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.


19 thoughts on “Cyberbullying and Suicide

  1. Wow. What a post. As a mother, and a victim of real life bullying as a child- I thank you for this and I don’t feel as if you’ve done or said ANYTHING wrong or disrespectful or in any way, heartless.
    The fact that you do not have children but STILL have this kind of parental instinct is awesome, I applaud you for being a better non-parent than MANY parents out in the real world.
    I believe communication is key. I’m a young hearted mother and while my kids are only 7 and 5, I keep a very open, trusting and “cool mom” relationship with them now and always will. I’ve made the decision to be FRIENDS with my kids and TALK to them about everything from their little skills crushes in class, to how someone pharted while reading out loud, to “was anyone mean to you today?” And “were you nice? Did you help someone today?” I find it RIDICULOUS when “adults” highly advise me to NEVER be friends with my kids because then I’m not a parent. Clearly, people can’t multitask as well as me. And I highly disagree with that sterile, only-disciplined, non-communicative type of household.
    We may not be able to save our kids from ever feeling heart broken or dismantled by their peers. But so help me god my kids will come to me with these things because they know I will fucking raise HELL on anyone who hurts them.
    Rant over.
    Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the affirmation. I really was afraid that if I posted this, I’d have rotten fruit thrown at me simply for expressing an opinion that opposes a pair of grieving parents.

      BTW… how have I not found your blog before now? I need to play catch up!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can tell you thought about every word of this post before hitting publish, and I share the same sentiment as Ely.

    I watched a movie about cyber bullying and throughout the movie, the victim and her friend would video record the bullying. Once the victim took her life, the parents showed the bully the footage and asked ‘Why?’ The bully became distraught, remorseful, and saddened when faced with her cruel actions, knowing the outcome. I wonder if in real life, it could have the same effect? To gather what evidence is left of the bullying, be it texts or comments online, and sit down with the bully and maybe a counselor and ask why, and if they show no remorse or refuse to acknowledge their role in someone else’s death, then there is a bigger underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Did you ever watch 13 Reasons Why? Such a powerfully relatable series. And yes- I also wonder if these methods would be effective. But who’s siting around THINKING this up and then making it actually happen? Counselors barely do their job beyond their pay. We need passionate people who can connect with these kids and make REAL changes happen. Such a HUGE thing that seems too far out of reach but I do believe it’s possible to instill change.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I did not watch 13 Reasons Why. I wanted to; just haven’t gotten a chance. There needs to be legal punishment regardless of age in such situations. They may not have pulled a trigger or forced someone to take a bunch of pills, but bullies should be held responsible. If there were legal ramifications, maybe we would see a decrease in such cases.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t heard of this story, but from what I’m reading – I agree with you (and Paul up there). I am completely heartbroken for the parents & the family as well, and do NOT think they’re at fault, but I do not think suing the school district is the right thing either. I mean, your daughter just died and all you can think about is who you can get money from? You can’t see me but I am furrowing my brown and yanking on my hair. I don’t have children, but I was a child. & I will share a little story.
    When I was in high school I was bullied (as I’m sure we all were to some degree). They used to call me BBB. Which stood for “Buttless, Boobless, Bitch.” I have always been very tiny, but I didn’t think I was a bitch – I just didn’t let kids copy. They also called me Granny Panties, because I didn’t wear a thong every day & heaven forbid at 15, you could see my panty line some days through my jeans. I don’t remember if I told my parents – probably just my old diary – but my parents were always there for me, regardless of what I told them. They made me feel like I was worth everything in the world, and more – same as they do now. I think the love of a parent/guardian can drive out any rock bottom self esteem or bullying. But, maybe that’s my wishful thinking.
    I hope that girl rests in peace, and this lesson finally resonates in the minds of online & real-time assholes.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Aaron, thanks for writing such an important post. As you know, I worked as a Public Health Educator for the state department this summer and this was my project- suicide prevention. So this hits really close to home!! At first, I thought I wouldn’t like what you would have to say- but in the end, I did! Schools can only do so much. These days school staff are taking on many roles beyond their capacity. A good bond with parents can definitely help kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I was working in the schools I worked in, I saw how so many parents want teachers to be everything at all times, but, at the same time, they can’t always seem to decide what role they want their kids’ teachers to play. The only role a teacher should be required to play is that of an educator. But some parents complain when a teacher tries to be anything other than a babysitter. They complain when a teacher attempts to instill positive values. Now they complain when a teacher doesn’t try hard enough to instill positive values. Our teachers are overworked and underpaid and unappreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. As an educator I can say that the blame is on everyone, not just one single person. When something this tragic happens it falls on us all to take part in what did or didn’t do to notice the signs ahead of time and prevent.

    Teachers know when a kid is being singled out or when behavior of a student changes.

    Administrators and councilors could have informed the parents of both parties and relaunched a campaign to help stop school wide cyber bulling.

    The parents of both the bully and the victim should be involved in their child’s life on and off the internet and take responsibility for what they see and post online.

    The bully/ bullies for obvious reasons.

    And finally, anyone and everyone in contact with this child before she decided to take her own life.

    The take away from my comment, share kindness. If you are a parent monitor your kids when they are with you and when they are online and do whatever-means-necessary to halt the behavior. Care about your students and be the person that makes a difference even if it is saying something simple, such as, “I’m glad you are here today.” , “It’s good to have you in my class.” , “You make my day better by being my student.” Kindness is not an adjective, it’s a verb like love or hate. It is something we all need to choose to show everyday.

    Liked by 1 person

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