Twelve year old, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, was killed when she was driven to suicide by a group of middle school girls who bullied her for nearly a year. They eventually drove her to climb an abandoned concrete tank tower and hurled herself to her death. These 15 girls killed this 12 year old as surely as if they surrounded her and beat her to death.
Whoever came up with the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” was absolutely wrong. Only if a person has self-confidence and truly believes in him/herself, can words (verbal abuse, cyber bullying or otherwise) shed from the subconscious mind like ducks can shed water. On the other hand, middle school age youth are especially vulnerable to peer pressure and words like “Can you die please?”, “Why are you still alive?”, “You’re ugly”, can shatter a young person’s confidence and sensibility, i.e. choosing suicide over life.
There are two elements to consider with this suicide and many other suicides from bullying. First, how do we intervene with those who are considering suicide? Though Rebecca’s mother did as much as could under the circumstances, there may have been others who could have done something during the year-long bullying. The second consideration is to determine why so many are bullying others and how to prevent bullying in the first place.
National Education Association and ABC News have stated that 160,000 kids stay home from school every day due to fear of bullying. ABC also reported that 30 percent of all students are either bullies or victims of bullying. That means, out of a class of 30, nine students will be a bully or a victim of bullying.
Additionally, a Yale University study showed that bully victims are 2-9 times more likely to consider suicide. In another study, The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) has reported that suicide rates among 10 to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades. Further, a British study showed that 10-14 year old girls who are bullied may be at higher risk for suicide.
What seems to be causing the increased suicide rate, especially among 10 to 14 year old girls? Is it possible that the ratio between those being bullied and those who commit suicide has not significantly changed? If so, then the increased number of suicides is caused by a significant increase in bullying. Rebecca Ann Sedwick was bullied by at least 15 other girls—all in middle school students. AAS stated that suicide rates have increased by more than 50 percent over the last three decades. That would indicate that the number of bullies and the number of bullying incidents have also increased by more than 50%.
Violence in general seems to have increased significantly in the past few decades. More mass murders by teenagers and young adults! More deadly violence in the streets of our large cities than in past decades! More vulgarity and demeaning of people in our pop music! More attention to pop culture than to issues which affect our lives! And of course, more bullying!
Why? Is it possible we have lost our sense of morality, integrity, and respect for one another? Technology in communications has exponentially increased in recent decades; however, it appears that interactive communications among individuals have significantly decreased during the same time period. With all the flaunting on sex, violence, demeaning of others, it’s a wonder there’s not more chaos.
Decades ago, people discussed issues without name calling or rudeness. Today we have very little discussions without name calling and being able to find consensus. Children played together and learned to socialize together in the past. Today, social media has stifled the ability for children to learn to socialize together in meaning ways. Today, sex and violence dominate the media; whereas, the focus, in years past, was romance, relationships and active and meaningful communications.
Is it the fault of the young? In some cases, perhaps; however, where were and are the parents of those 15 young, middle school, girls when they were bullying Rebecca Ann Sedwick? Why did they allow their daughters to get away with the bullying? Did they not parent their daughters? Did they simply ignore the bullying? Were the parents unable to communicate effectively with their daughters?
Many questions, yet what are the solutions? With all the advances in communications technology, perhaps one solution is to step back and realize that with all the advances in communications technology, we have lost—certainly losing—quality communications. Parents need to parent and not simply be friends to their children. Parents need to discover the means to communicate with their children. Society, in general, needs to learn to speak and listen, rather than talk and hear. In general, society needs to back away from all the advances in technology and return to quality communications with ourselves, with others, and with our world.