12-year-old Florida teen cyberbullying tragedy illustrates complexity (updated)

This week two girls aged 12 and 14 were were arrested on aggravated stalking charges in relation to the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide last month after being cyberbullied.

What makes this case notable for parents everywhere is not only the tragic loss of Rebecca, but also the age of the girls charged in Florida and the seriousness of the charges.

These rare but serious cases of kids taking their own lives in response to bullying grab our attention and raise a lot of questions: Should we as a society hold parents accountable if their kids are engaged in cyberbullying? Is it appropriate to hold pre-teens responsible for the suicide of another child? And most of all, of course, how do we prevent bullying in the first place?

I’d like to point you all to some of the work Emily Bazelton over at Slate has been doing around the issue of cyberbullying and bullying in general. She has a few things to say about this story right here.

The take-home message is that we really do need to talk to our kids in an open and honest way about how we treat each other in all arenas: On the street, at school and online. It’s probably not that unusual for kids to think awful things about other kids. But we need to help them develop empathy and compassion way before they get on Facebook and start posting them. As parents, we need to look at all the sides of the issue, whether our kids are at risk of being bullied, of engaging in bullying behaviour or a part of the majority of kids who are bystanders and who also have a role to play

We also need to understand that the impact of bullying on kids is not just social (although that is bad enough) — it’s a health issue. Absenteeism, drug and alcohol abuse and depression are linked to bullying. And we need to make it clear to kids that suicide is never the answer, and there’s help out there available across Canada 24-7.

For great reading on this topic, particularly if you have school-aged kids, I recommend Bazelton’s Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy as well as Barbara Coloroso’s accessible The Bully The Bullied and the Bystander.

And of course I’d like to invite you to read about Carol Todd, whose commitment to anti-bullying and courage in sharing her daughter Amanda Todd’s story put her on our Me to We Award winners’ list. (Click through to find out about the Amanda Todd Legacy Fund.)

This just in: Over at Embrace the Chaos, Emma Waverman has a great guide to Facebook’s anti-bullying tools.

We’ve also got good help for parents thinking through these issues right here on CanadianLiving.com:


How have you found yourself talking about bullying with your kids, or friends and family?