Look at these faces. Aren’t they beautiful? You can’t help but wonder, “What could a young, attractive teen like you have to be sad about?” The following photos are those of real teens who committed suicide after struggling with a vicious epidemic called cyber-bullying.
Megan Meier, age 13
Died: October 17, 2006
betrayed & verbally abused by a friend’s parent who got on MySpace pretending to be a 16 year old boy?!
Phoebe Prince, age 15
Died: January 14, 2010
harassed via text messaging and Facebook
Alexis Pilkington age 17
Died: March 25, 2010
cyber-bullied on Facebook and formspring.me
This is sadly becoming a common issue. It could easily become even more common if children are left wading through the masses of social networking sites without a firm grasp on reality and heavy dose of self-assurance. Adolescent socializing is hard enough without adding the global factor of public confrontations. Education and the freedom to be open with a parent or other grown up support system when they are unsure of how to handle certain situations alone will save kids like Ryan, Megan, Phoebe, and Alexis.
Restriction is not the answer.
Many parents and teachers are concerned about sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter providing too much information to and by our youth. Some believe that denying children (including teens) access to social networking sites will protect them from harm. It’s time to get real. Kids will find ways to set up online profiles at their friends’ houses, at school, or even at the local libraries. Electronic harassment is also happening via text messaging, instant messaging, and email.
Re-purposing social networking is the only answer.
Not only is it possible to used to emotionally hurt people, but I believe that it could really save people too. Social networking services that allow continual access to new resources for education and other public services. Students could talk to tutors on MySpace when they are having trouble with a certain homework problem. Alcoholics could get on Facebook and talk to AA leaders and members, even on Friday nights when their buddies are texting them to come out to the bars. Could Twitter become a useful part of the emergency broadcast system by tweeting weather warnings and Amber alerts to everyone’s cell phone within a targeted demographic area?
Ignoring it won’t make it go away.
Social media is swiftly bringing our world into a new age whether we are ready to see the change or not. Before, it was all about information, now it is all about sharing information. Social media could be the answer to some of society’s problems or it could make them much worse. If we decide to look the other way and tell ourselves that it won’t happen to our family, then the problem will get worse. We don’t have to sit by miss this opportunity for growth. We just need to learn how to use it appropriately, then we must teach our children.
No death should be in vain.
Dedicated to: Rachel Burdine, my best friend in middle school committed suicide at age 13. You could have really done so many great things. I still miss you.