“Bullying is part of life! What’s the big deal?” I hear comments like this almost daily. Some people think we are making too much of the issue. They say, “It happened to me. It’s just something everybody has to go through as a teen.”
In this post, I would like to explain why it is so different today from when we were teens.
Let’s think about Amanda Cummings – the teen who jumped in front of a city bus to kill herself last week. Her heart had just been broken by a boy, and she was very sad. This is something that most people have experienced. What was different in this case, and in others today, was that Amanda’s boyfriend broke up with her and posted it on his Facebook status for everyone to see. If he is a typical teen, he has about 700 Facebook friends. That means AT LEAST 700 people witnessed Amanda’s humiliation after he broke up with her.
In addition to the humiliation of having the break-up aired on Facebook, Amanda was being bullied and cyber bullied by some girls in her high school. This group of girls “liked” Amanda’s boyfriend. They thought Amanda was not good enough for him. They believed that a member of their group was better suited to be this boy’s girlfriend.
Let me be clear. Amanda was being verbally and emotionally attacked multiple times a day, by many girls. This was happening EVERY DAY.
Some people have tried to say Amanda was a troubled teen – the type of teen who ends up committing suicide no matter what she experienced. They might say she stepped in front of the bus simply because her boyfriend broke up with her. That is something we will never know.
As a bullied and cyberbullied teen once shared with me, “My life is like a glass of water. Every mean word, comment or act is like a drop of water into that glass. Eventually, the glass can’t take any more drops of water. The glass overflows. . . .”
If you would like to learn more about Amanda Cummings or use her story as a point of reference for a discussion with students or children, the kids from Roy Brown Middle School and their teacher, Mrs. Sassi, sent me the following article to share with my readers: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/staten-island-teen-kills-jumping-front-bus-family-cites-bullies-article-1.1000243?pgno=1.
When you were a teen, you might have been bullied or humiliated. Typically, that would have happened in a classroom, hallway, bus or playground. Now being bullied, ridiculed or excluded is very painful. We know that it causes low self-esteem and feelings of anxiety that can have lasting effects. But we don’t know how it feels for someone to make fun of us, humiliate us or harass us in such a public way – in front of 700 people or more.
One of the issues I discuss with high school and college students is the potential consequences of posting inappropriate photos or comments on their Facebook page. I use a visual of a billboard scenario with them to help them comprehend the lesson. I say, “Imagine there is a billboard outside of your school. Imagine that every picture you post on your Facebook page is posted outside of your school on a billboard for every student, teacher and parent to view.” Use the billboard image in your mind so that you understand how Amanda must have felt. Think about how very public was her embarrassment.
Another story you might relate to this is the one told in the new hit series on NBC called The Firm. On Sunday night, in the first episode, a 14 year old is on trial for killing a fellow eighth grader. The victim is attacked and eventually stabbed to death because he chose to humiliate the boy on trial by hanging his book report with an F grade on a bulletin board in the school hallway.
Bullying is different in 2012. It does not have the same effect on the victims it did when we were teens. This lesson is not for your students or your children – they know how much it hurts to be bullied on Facebook. This lesson is for you and your colleagues, friends and other adults. Tell them about the billboard.