Zeus warned Pandora not to open the beautiful box he gave her, but her curiosity won. Pandora peeked into the box and unleashed pain, confusion and other evils into the world before she could close the lid again.
“Rebecca Ann Sedwick Bullied for Months Before Suicide” is the title of the first article I read about Rebecca, a 12 year-old girl from Tampa, Florida, who committed suicide this past week. The few words were a warning to me not to read the article, that doing so would unleash nothing but confusion and pain. But my curiosity won, and I read.
If Rebecca had been bullied “for months,” then her community failed her. Standard of care in bullying prevention and cessation is to make stopping bullying an explicit responsibility of everyone. Her peers that witnessed the bullying should have known to report it to responsible adults, and those adults should have known what to do with that information.
The fact that the bullying happened for months, and Rebecca’s open expressions of suicidal ideation went unchecked, indicates that Rebecca did not have a community and kids need communities.
Rebecca’s mother says that she blocked Rebecca’s access to Facebook when she learned about the early incidents of cyberbullying, but she was unaware that it continued. Tragically, preventing cyberbullying is not about blocking this Web site or that app. It is about being present to your child’s online activities. It is about actually knowing what she is doing and the information she sharing. Experts agree: if you cannot monitor what your child is doing on a Web-enabled device, then your child should not have that device. Being present in the life of one’s child is one of the primary responsibilities of a parent; and kids need parents.
Zeus did not put only evils in Pandora's box: he also placed hope. For those of us who care about kids and things like bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide, there is hope. Reliable measures of in-person bullying (which is, in fact, much more prevalent than cyberbullying) indicate that it is declining. Likewise, the consequences of bullying that we care about the most also are declining. For example, in the past 10 years the child suicide rate has declined almost 9%.
The public is more aware of bullying and cyberbullying than in the past, and this has led to better programs and a greater acceptance of everyone’s role in bullying prevention and cessation.
In case this new awareness has not reached you (I am looking at you, Tampa, Florida), here are some things you can do to turn your school and neighborhood into a community kids can rely on when it comes to bullying.
1. Initiate and publicize clear anti-bullying policies that treat bullying as serious misbehavior and makes intervening the responsibility of each member of the community.
2. Set expectations for bullies, victims, witnesses and adults that specify exactly what to do when bullying or cyberbulling occurs, what the reporting and documentation procedures will be, what the consequences will be, and how follow-up will be handled.
3. Foster a sense of inclusiveness and belonging, because kids with strong peer relationships and support from adults are less likely to bully or to be bullied.
4. Create environments that celebrate the diverse abilities of all students, because finding success in an activity helps kids establish their value to a community, and kids who are valued by a community are not, as Rebecca was, invisible to it.
R. Bradley Snyder is an expert on the behaviors and preferences of children and youth, and the author of The 5 Simple Truths of Raising Kids: How to Deal with Modern Problems Facing Your Tweens and Teens. His work has helped develop raw concepts into some of the most successful programs, campaigns, and media for kids.