A tragic tale that’s becoming all too common these days: Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, after being bullied in school and online, decided earlier this month that it would be easier to take her own life than endure one more day of torture.
Being a kid, specifically a teenager, has never been easy. But we’re both alarmed and concerned at the increase in these types of stories over the past several years.
In Amanda’s case, the teen shared her story just a month ago on YouTube: In a silent video Amanda holds up cue card after cue card, detailing the torment she would endure and how she’d ended up at this point. "In 7th grade, I would go with friends on webcam [to] meet and talk to new people." A stranger convinced her to flash the camera. Then, a year later, a man contacted her via Facebook, threatening to post the topless photos unless she "put on a show."
Then, as reported by the Huffinton Post, "Terrifyingly, the stranger knew everything about her: her address, school, friends, relatives, and the names of her family members. Soon, her naked photo had been forwarded ‘to everyone.’"
Amanda reveals, in the video, that this led to her developing anxiety and depression, and she turned to drugs and alcohol. She changed schools, found new friends and tried to continue on with her life. But a Facebook page featuring her uncensored photo was created.
"Cried every night," Amanda wrote
Despite changing schools, moving to a new city and entering counseling, Amanda couldn’t seem to make her life make sense anymore. And so, she made her YouTube video.
"I’m struggling to stay in this world, because everything just touches me so deeply. I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this to be an inspiration and to show that I can be strong."
Not strong enough, sadly. Amanda was discovered dead on Wednesday night; Authorities believe she committed suicide.
There are similarities between Amanda’s case and that of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Massachusetts student who had emigrated to New England from Ireland. After dating "the wrong boy" and being tormented by a group of students, both at school and online, she hung herself in January, 2010. A group of her classmates - the bullies - later faced a variety of charges connected to her death.
Even closer to home, remember the story of 13-year-old Ryan Halligan, the boy from Essex Junction who took his own life after being bullied at school and online (notice a theme?).
Just seven months after his death, then-Gov. James Douglas signed Act 117 - Vermont’s Bully Prevention Law.
"Bullying is conduct that this bill recognizes as being more than just ‘kids being kids’," Douglas said at the signing in May, 2004. "When it becomes pervasive, persistent and designed to humiliate or ridicule our children it requires some response from not only parents but also our schools. ... Bullying is an issue that should concern all of us ... The first step in solving an issue such as bullying is to raise awareness through public and private dialogue."
Ryan’s father, John Halligan, also spoke at the signing: "No Vermont child should ever again be driven to self inflicted harm and even death, to cope with the self doubt and pain caused by bullying."
Kids have been bullied for generations. But the world is a different place than it was 20 or 30 years ago, when bullied kids would go home to a non-working parent, and find safety and comfort away from school. These days, kids are in constant communication with the Internet and social media. And for those who would ask "Where are the parents?" Well, if you’re lucky, they’re both working hard just to make ends meet.
Parents and school officials and all of us, as a society, need to be aware that there are kids out there that are hurting. We need to educate and empathize, learn and listen. We need to let all of these kids, the bullied and the bullies, know that they are not alone and that we, as adults, are there to guide them and keep them safe. If we don’t, we can’t be surprised to read about the next Amanda Todd, Phoebe Prince or Ryan Halligan.
"I hope I can show you guys that everyone has a story, and everyone’s future will be bright one day," Amanda wrote in her YouTube video. "... you just gotta pull through. I’m still here aren’t I?"