In 2009, Hope Witsell was 13 when she sent a text message to her boyfriend that included a photo of her that made it into the hands of other kids around school, according to the parenting blog Babble. After enduring bullying at school in the spring of 2009, the torture reached a new low the following fall when kids started a “Hope Hater” page on Facebook. Hope committed suicide by hanging herself from her canopy bed in her room. Now her mother, Donna Witsell, has started a group called Hope’s Warriors designed to combat all forms of bullying at school.
This is just one more case in a string of unfortunate circumstances that has befallen many teenagers in the digital age. Phoebe Prince of Massachusetts in early 2010 and Megan Meier’s suicide in 2006 were two high-profile cases involving the new wave of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullies attack through social networks and text messages by leaving derogatory remarks on YouTube, Facebook walls, and on cell phones. Then things can get out of control when the bullying comes into real life, when kids are taunted at school and the emotional trauma is too much.
What Must Be Done
Laws in several states have been passed that give school systems the authority to suspend students for cyberbullying. A new case this year when a Rutgers University student committed suicide after a secret video of him in a sexual encounter with another man was leaked to the Internet complicated matters. Was it illegal to record the event or illegal to post it on the Internet or send it cell phones?
Parents, educators, and lawmakers have a challenge on their hands for sure. What needs to be done is to have standards for what is considered bullying and what isn’t. In the murky area of the Internet, finding proof of bullying can be a trying task. Schools and local prosecutors can find laws that can punish stalkers and harassers in general, but it may be difficult to find a law that was broken that can find a punishment for causing someone’s suicide.
The problem of cyberbullying starts in the home. Kids who think it is okay to bully someone else may have picked up that behavior in the family in which they were raised. Someone taught those kids either by example or by ignorance of the issues that bullying or abuse is an acceptable form of behavior. Parents who engage in bullying of some sort often pass that lesson on to their kids. It is the same reason why religions are still at odds with one another, why gays aren’t accepted in society, and why racism still exists.
Bullying isn’t going to go away with some statute on the books. It will go away when parents stop teaching their kids that abuse in any form is acceptable behavior.
Listening to your kids is another way to get information so you can seek help. Counseling and counselors can offer services for teens who have been the victims of cyberbullying. Sometimes just taking an active role in your child’s life may be enough to stem the tide of bullying and cyberbullying.
Babble and FindLaw provided information for this article.