Twelve-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick climbed to the top of a platform at a disused concrete plant in Lakeland, Fla., and hurled herself to her death on September 9. No, this is not some weird imaginary horror story. This is real.
This funny, smart girl committed suicide because she couldn’t take the pain anymore. For nearly a year, as many as 15 middle-school girls ganged up on Rebecca, bombarding her with online messages asking things like: “Why don’t you go kill yourself” and “Can u Die Please?”
So she did.
She changed one of her online screen names to “That Dead Girl.” She messaged two friends: “I’m jumping.” Then the 12-year-old girl went to an abandoned concrete plant, climbed a tower and committed suicide by throwing herself to the ground.
Rebecca‘s Crime: Liking a Boy That Another Girl Liked
The Polk County sheriff’s office has seized computers and cellphones as it investigates the role of cyberbullying in this latest tragic suicide and is considering filing charges against the middle-school students who allegedly barraged Rebecca with terrifying messages. Rebecca was guilty of briefly dating a boy that one of the other girls liked.
I want to pause here for a moment to note that not all kids are online bullies. As a high school teacher, I work with teenagers every day and I have plenty of students who are kind, sensitive, young people who are outraged by cyberbullying.
But this case is tragic.
From The New York Times:
In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications.
Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.
Mean Girls Now Have Frightening Weapons at Their Disposal
Mean girls are not a new phenomenon, but it is frightening that these young women now have at their disposal an array of apps that allow users to post and send messages anonymously. Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, singled out ask.fm, Kik Messenger and Voxer as three sites the girls had used to send messages like “You’re ugly” and “Why are you still alive?”
It’s not as if she didn’t try to help her daughter.
Norman told the New York Times that she closed down Rebecca’s Facebook page and monitored the girl’s cellphone use. She changed the cellphone number and kept tabs on her social media footprint. Rebecca changed schools, and, for a while, her life seemed to have turned around. Then she began using the new apps, setting off a new round of cyberbullying.
How Prevalent Is Cyberbullying?
About 20 percent of young people have been victimized, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a clearinghouse of information on cyberbullying. About 15 percent of teens admit that they have bullied or ridiculed others on social media, photo-sharing and other websites, according to the Center.
“It’s now 24-7. It’s not just something you can escape after the school day,” Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, told the Orlando Sentinel.
What do you think is going on here?
How Can We Help Put a Stop to it?
Florida passed a law this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.
Various public school districts have already declared their intentions to deal harshly with cyberbullying. Chicago Public Schools have made cyberbullying a crime, and recently the Glendale School District in California announced that it is doing a round-the-clock monitoring of its 13,000 students’ social media activities. As Techdirt reports, Geo Listening will collect information from students’ posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, in order to provide Glendale school officials with a daily report that categorizes posts by their frequency and how they relate to cyber-bullying, harm, hate, despair, substance abuse, vandalism and truancy.
Some parents are up in arms about this new policy, but the reality is that parents cannot possibly know everything their children are doing, unless the kids choose to tell them.
What do you think? How can we put a stop to these senseless tragedies? Should schools monitor students’ social media activities? Should parents try to be more vigilant?
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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