Another story has surfaced where a teen committed suicide after experiencing bullying. The Chicago Tribune reports that Iain Steele, a 15-year-old boy from a western suburb of Chicago, hung himself in the basement of his home. This case, like many others, illustrates the omnipresent nature of adolescent bullying in the 21st century. Iain was bullied at school and online and really had nowhere to go to escape the torment.
Is it just me or are the facts of these kinds of tragedies eerily similar? In most of the bullycide or “cyberbullicide” cases that we are aware of, the story is often the same: a troubled teen who is taking medication for mental health issues is harassed by peers to the point of suicide. Many times a romantic relationship gone bad is also part of the equation. Schools and parents usually know that something is going on, but don’t know what to do to help. In some cases parents take some initial steps to try to rectify the situation (by meeting with school administrators or having doctors evaluate their children), but the bullying continues.
As the article points out, the link between adolescent bullying and suicide is very clear. Youth who are victims of bullying, and also those who bully, are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Sameer and I have an article under review that extends that relationship to cyberbullying incidents. It’s yet another reason to take all forms of bullying seriously and to hold bullies accountable and provide support for targets. And yes, it is YOUR responsibility.
I am not sure if you all saw this, but another youth has hung himself after being cyberbullied on Bebo – which is very popular in the U.K. Apparently, one of the threats the 13-year-old boy received through that social networking site read “If you don’t kill yourself then we will do it for you.” It is so unfortunate how this is occurring with increasing frequency. And some adults say to us – what is wrong with these kids that they are so troubled by online harassment – can’t they just deal with it? Can’t they just ignore it and not let it bother them? The answer is a resounding “no.” Adolescents struggle mightily with issues of self-esteem, self-doubt, and self-identity as they try to figure out who they are. And they are hypersensitive to the thoughts and opinions of their peer group. Hopefully you remember feeling the same way when you were growing up. While cyberbullicide is definitely an exception and not the norm, it appears to me as a solution that some youth would definitely consider, based on our research. In our most recent study, we found that victims of cyberbullying were significantly more likely to have serious thoughts of suicide than those who had not been victimized. Clearly, this is cause for concern.
Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist has just signed into law the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act.” This is due mostly to the efforts of our friend Debbie Johnston from Cape Coral, Florida, a first-grade schoolteacher whose son Jeffrey took his life after being bullied and cyberbullied.
- requires districts to adopt policy prohibiting bullying & harassment, and to specify procedures for reporting, investigating, notifying, referring, and collecting data on incidents
- provides a measure of immunity for school districts in their investigation and response
- provides restrictions with respect to defense of action & application of provisions (which basically means that victims who defend themselves by fighting back won’t also be punished)
-makes DOE Safe Schools Funds conditional on compliance (which means that these anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying policies must be in place in order for the school district to keep receiving federal funds)
The law also states: “The physical location or time of access of a computer-related incident cannot be raised as a defense in any disciplinary action initiated under this section.” IANAL, but from my understanding this means that a perpetrator cannot point to the fact that the bullying took place via an electronic device as a justification to temper or qualify the severity of the behavior.
Congratulations, Debbie. We share your joy with this outcome.