Friday, October 19, 2012

Our Teens Speak Out On Bullying

*Warning: this post contains discussion of bullying and suicide which may be triggering for some readers*

Yeah, yeah…I know. Fridays are typically fun and light, and I was going to do my monthly fun and light Locker Room post until I saw this (ABC news story that you should totally read before you continue). And this

The video’s kind of long, but here’s the quick summary: As a seventh grader, Amanda Todd was pressured to expose her breasts via webcam to an unknown male. He came back a year later, threatened her with it, sent the picture to everyone, then used it as his facebook profile picture. For Amanda, this resulted in years of bullying in school and online, cutting and humiliation up until she died last week.

I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it, am actually really sick about the whole thing, and well, with it being National Bullying Prevention Month, can’t ignore posting about it. So I went to our teens to gather their reactions on Amanda Todd’s death. I know we’ve covered bullying before, but sadly, it refuses to go away.

Our teens’ reactions to the news story

BRIANNA: I actually hadn't seen that. I just read the article, and I'm stunned. The fact that this stuff happens everyday is chilling. Most people don't think about it, but I do. I dare you to go along the suicide and/or anorexia tags on Tumblr and not want to cry. Hundreds upon thousands of teens and adults hating themselves, often because other people hate them for being who they are. Trying to lose one more pound so they'll be happy with themselves... and then they still aren't. But what do most people do about it? Nothing.

Just a month ago, I spent at least three hours talking an online friend into dropping the scalpel she was about to use to end her life. I was crying the entire time, and I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to get away from the moment. She was 21 and she'd been bullied her entire life. She didn't think her family would care if she ended it. Even worse was that I was the only one helping her. The entire time I was convincing her not to, there were 5 as many messages tell her to kill herself.

Lots of people just brush this stuff off and say they're wanting attention. Well guess what? 99.99% of the time, this is absolutely real. A person dies from suicide every 14 minutes, and there's an estimated 8 to 25 attempted suicides for every suicide death.

LISSA: What happened to Amanda Todd, and the way things ended for her, makes me incredibly uneasy, really sorry, and honestly, extremely angry. I watched the video she put up on Youtube and became sick to my stomach - the extent to which she was bullied for the reasons why she was bullied is disgusting, and I am appalled because nobody deserves to be treated the way Amanda Todd was, no matter what. (Also, I'm a little discouraged by the lack of a role her parents played in her life -- they moved her to different cities but didn't take an action against the way she was "self-medicating"? Still, I'm no parent, so I guess I can't comment on any of that.) Still, I'm shocked to realize that Americans have heard about this awful event -- for a while, I thought it had only made national headlines. Where has CTV, CBC and Global been when all the other kids have been bullied or have done terrible things because of being a victim of bullying? Why haven't all the other victims of bullying and suicide been supported so much? Yes, what happened to Amanda Todd is terrible and it is infuriating to hear what many people have said and are still saying about her, but why is her case more news-worthy than all the others?

LENNON: I think it's disgusting that someone felt like that they had to take their our life because of other people. I've been low, I have considered death, I will admit that, but it was because of my feelings, no one else did anything to contribute to that. So, the fact that people were so awful to this girl that she committed suicide is heartbreaking. Its awful that this happened but this happens all the time and no one really seems to care if the girl is a lesbian or the boy isn't hot. I'm glad that this is getting some publicity but at the same time, this girl is just one of the many kids that this happens to.

RIV: I never heard about this before, but it's absolutely insane. I wish it were a one-time thing that never happens, but the only thing that differentiates this from other cases, as far as I can see, is the video. It's all so intense, and so sad. How people can look at this kind of stuff and continue to dismiss all teens as "angsty" is pretty messed up. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, yet it continues to be ignored. I've heard people say "I want to kill myself" when they have a lot of homework, but this...this happens way too often, and it's so sad.

RANDI: This is horrible. I'm extremely upset. I'd heard about this girl recently and it really does make me feel sick inside. Bullying to me is one of the worst crimes you can commit and go unpunished by law. And despite all the recent attempts by media and celebrities to bring it to a stop, it just seems to be getting worse, which is a shame.

I then asked a few follow-up questions...

Do you know anyone who’s been bullied? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently in your interactions or non-interactions with the bullying victim?

BRIANNA: I know quite a few people who have been bullied. My online friend, which I mentioned above, for example. My art teacher and close friend was a cutter due to bullying when she was younger, and I didn't find out until much later. The newest person to work at my mom's studio, a senior in high school, has seriously deep scars in her arm. I wish I'd talked to that online friend a little more, therefore learning about her depression before she reached the edge I had to drive her off of. I've only met the new worker once, but I plan on become her friend and will hopefully help her.

LISSA: I've been bullied and it has scarred me so deeply that I think differently and act differently than I would have before. I also know people who have been and are being bullied, and I try to step in when the situation isn't too intense or when there won't be too much backlash towards the victim or I. But honestly, it's really hard to step up to teasing when it's somebody you know who's being the mean one. I have some friends who live for drama, and though I don't believe that they realize they're being cruel when they talk badly about someone, sometimes it's hard to rationalize with them, explain why what they're saying is offensive/hurtful, and get them to stop.

LENNON: No one that I know of is currently being bullied, because as I am sure I have said my school is insanely strict about bullying. Sure, people are jerks but there is nothing that could be construed as bullying. We don't have lockers to get shoved into or anything like that.

RIV: I haven't experienced traditional bullying. My school is pretty strict about it. Though I've heard about crazy things that have happened in my school. One grade had around twenty kids that made up a group called "the army." It's as bad as it sounds. Nothing physical, not in my school. When I was in grade school, I was subject to the "ganging up" kind of bullying, which made several of my years completely miserable. No, there's nothing I could have done differently seeing other people bullied--I was too wrapped up in my own.

RANDI: Um, actually, I was bullied for most of last year by a girl who had been my best friend for a while. I thought we had reconciled it for a while, but I saw her again the other day and it looks like it's just as bad as it's always been. I'm working on it, and it definitely doesn't bring me down as much as it used to, but it's hard knowing there are a select few people out there who hate you so much. It took me a while to even call it bullying and not just "being mean" or some term that made it sound not as bad as it was.

There’s been some teen social media response to this in that some teens are upset that this is the suicide that is getting so much attention because the girl was white, straight, and attractive. They seem to be very upset that overweight and/or unattractive teens kill themselves from bullying quite frequently, but they don't get that kind of attention, and feel the media attention for this particular girl is sort of sending the message that she didn't deserve the bullying because she was pretty (and therefore not covering other overweight/unattractive teens sorta sends the message that they did deserve it in some way). Thoughts on that one?

BRIANNA: I agree and disagree. Yes, the simple fact is that I see less reports on overweight girls. A lot of people will immediately go to what everyone is thinking on that. But an even simpler fact? I hardly see any reports on suicide or bullying at all. Before we focus on who is getting notice, we need to work on this getting focus at all. Suicide and bullying is often a topic people shy away from because they don't want to think about that sort of stuff. But it's still happening every 14 minutes. 104 people everyday.

And another topic that needs discussing - girls vs boys. Most of the few stories I see on suicide are about girls. But guess what? There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.

Just something to think about.

LISSA: Well, yeah, see, this goes back to what I was saying before. Again, don't get me wrong: what happened to Amanda Todd...there are honestly no words to explain how terrible I feel. Still, I kind of have to agree with those advocating against all this media attention because I get their points, see where they're coming from, and am kinda pissed off about the whole thing. What makes this situation so special, so worthy of so much broadcasting? Yet, you know, I think that if something so awful is going to happen and people are going to pay attention to it and stand up for a worthy cause, then it shouldn't matter the logistics and the race, weight or attractiveness of a person.

LENNON: I agree with the people who say that completely. This is news because a hot, straight, white chick got bullied to death. I hate to be blunt but it's true. I can almost guarantee you that if the girl liked girls over guys or wasn't pretty or wasn't white, this wouldn't be making news. Those things are taboos in our society so they won't get talked about. She is not the first person to do this and probably won't be the last. I am not downsizing what she did by any standard, I think it's awful what happened but this happens a lot and this is one of the only times it's big news. Just something to think about.

RANDI: You raise a good point. According to some statistics I read the other day that are probably not true, one person commits suicide every 60 seconds. And I acknowledge that not all of those suicides are teenagers. But what happens to those people? Where is their media attention? There is definitely a better chance of white, straight, middle class audiences relating to this girl than say, a gay teen, or a black teen. It's marketability at it's sickest really. But at least they're bringing attention to the issue of bullying after Elementary school. It's a step in the right direction. Also, I think the attention on Amanda is partly raised by the YouTube video. That's a big factor.

RIV: I'm a bit skeptical. I don't know how many teens leave 8-minute long suicide videos on YouTube, or go to such extreme measures all the time, but this isn't the first time teen suicides are reported on. Not every adult putting a bullet through their skull is reported, and, unfortunately, it's become commonplace for teens as well. I remember a few years ago, there was a big thing going on with the chain suicides out in the midwest(?). If the fact that she's pretty and skinny is such a big deal for you, maybe the news is just pointing out that it happens to people from all walks of life. Pretty, ugly (though I've never met an "ugly girl" and don't think I ever will), straight, gay, blond, brunette. The important part is that there's a girl dead before she even had the chance to be an upper-classman. Why are we talking about her weight?

This operative’s thoughts? I teach teenagers. I know there are always elements of drama, but why it has to come to this? Why people have to hate so much and turn an entire school against someone? Why someone is left to feel that there is NO ONE who’ll befriend and support them? I don’t have answers. Honestly, part of this leaves me sad and hopeless. Part of it makes me want to wrap the world up in a massive hug.

As for the rest of the questions, I kind of get why the media’s making a big deal of Amanda’s death, and I don’t really know that it has a lot to do with her being bullied because she was pretty. I think it just so happened her suicide falls in National Bullying Prevention Month. That she left an eight-minute YouTube video. That the bullying can happen to ANYONE.

What can we do? I don’t know. Be aware. Be nice. Be kind. Give lots of hugs. One of YA Confidential’s supporters and friends, Carolina Valdez Miller, spearheaded The Kindness Project last year in an effort to inspire acts of kindness even when “we aren’t feeling entirely whole.” Anyway, Matt, Sara, and I are regular contributors. Check it out. And hopefully leave there inspired to spread some kindness too.

So, sorry for depressify-ing your Friday. But go out and hug someone. Say something nice. Perform an act of kindness. And while you’re at it, give yourself a big hug.



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