There’s the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
According to Save.org (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15–24 year olds in America. NoBullying.com states that one in four children has been the victim of bullying. With these staggering statistics, a careful eye must be turned to focus on the epidemic of bullying and its relation to adolescent suicide.
Cyberbullying is especially pervasive in today’s world of social media and photo apps, and the ramifications are particularly hurtful due to the grand scale of visibility. One tweet or one photo can easily be spread to a victim’s entire school in one afternoon.
One doesn’t have to look very far to discover the tragic stories of lives taken far too soon as a result of bullying. One of the more publicized stories was that of Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, who took his own life after experiencing cyberbullying in an intimate way. His roommate, the aggressor, was convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering arrest—but it was too late. Tyler had already made the permanent decision to end his pain.
Inspired by Tyler’s story, Julie Kreiman, a teacher at K12 International Academy, took it upon herself to begin a club committed to supporting and educating iCademy students on bullying. Topics at these monthly meetings range from cyberbullying to role-playing scenarios to listening and supporting one another. Julie states that the students who decide to join this club are committed to not simply being bystanders when it comes to bullying—they will all do their part to promote zero tolerance when it comes to bullying behavior and victimization.
“Wanting to do my part to prevent cyberbullying and offer support for students who have been victims of bullying, I launched an Anti-Bullying Club at K12’s International Academy in the fall of 2015.” –Julie Kreiman
This club serves as an excellent example of how students can make a big difference in the lives of others. It takes more than just talk to help victims of bullying. It takes students genuinely caring about the well-being of others, understanding the significance of kindness and compassion, and not being afraid to stand up in the face of a bully—standing for others when they cannot stand for themselves.
In any bullying situation, students and adults should learn about the symptoms of depression and the warning signs for thoughts of suicide. Casual (or serious) mentions of suicide, of being missed, or of death should not be taken lightly. Changes in appetite, in moods and behaviors, in sleep patterns, or in friendships are all indicators that there may be deep, underlying concerns.
If your student is exhibiting any of these signs or if you have an instinct that something is wrong, you should talk with your student about them and any thoughts of suicide they may be having. Sometimes, though, students try to cover up this pain. They may feel embarrassed or weak or may simply not have the strength or will to seek help. These students have already given up, and it is in those times that we must carry them through. Professional help is often needed in order to break through the barriers and get the help they desperately need. That said, a crying shoulder, a hero to come to their defense, or simply a listening ear may be the best first step to beginning the process of healing.
The month of October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but let us not forget that bullying happens year-round. It is a serious and complex threat to our children and occurs at all ages and to all types of people. People are bullied for being considered too fat, too skinny, too smart, too dumb, too rich, too poor—as long as bullying exists, no group of people is safe from the pain and devastation felt in its wake.
Because of that, suicide as a result of bullying is a subject that affects us all and must be addressed by us all. What we must focus on is that good still does exist in the world, that people do care, and that there is always hope. Whether or not you’re a fan of the new Cinderella movie, her mantra of “Have courage and be kind” is exactly the approach necessary in order to overcome bullying. We must be brave, while responding with boldness and kindness.