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Kids & Online Bullying: Words Can Actually Kill You

Kids & Online Bullying: Words Can Actually Kill You

Rebecca Sedwick, 12 years old, is not alone. And that’s a crying shame. Audrie Pott, 15; Katlin Loux, 17; Jessica Laney, 16; Bart Palosz, 15; Ashlynn Conner, 10. They are just some of the teens and preteens to take their own lives in recent years due, at least in some measure, to the online bullying they endured at the hands of their peers. And in most of cases, these suicides are tragic byproducts of our new-tech society that has replaced so much face-to-face interaction with voice-mail, then e-mail, then social media. It is also a glaring reminder of just how hurtful and harmful words can be.

Sure, some kids are innately cruel and would be cruel under any circumstance. But when I was growing up, if you said something cruel to a classmate, you saw them tear up or blush or react in some way, and chances are, you felt ashamed. And hopefully you learned from that and changed your behavior, and it’s all a little part of what we call the adolescent maturing process. It’s something that doesn’t happen today the way it used to. A phone or a computer or an iPad serves as a mask and they don’t force our kids to face the consequences of their actions. So, parents need to step in. And that is why it pains me so much not only to see Rebecca Sedwick’s tormentors declare they “don’t give a f* that she died”, but then to see their parents’ reaction that their daughters “aren’t that type.” Parents these days need to know not just what type of kids their children are at the dinner table or in school or on the soccer field. They need to know what type of kids they are online and behind the text screen. No computer is going to tell your child “Shame on you. This isn’t the way we treat people. Grow up and learn a little respect.” And when they don’t, someone else’s life could be on the line.

The impact of the torment these kids suffered, not from the blows of sticks and stones, but from the unrelenting barrage of hateful words, reminds us also of just how important it is for us to teach our kids from the youngest age just how harmful words can be. Some people may roll their eyes when we rebuke our 2 and 3-year-olds for using words like “stupid” and “hate,” but this is paving the path for an understanding that words can sting, and just as language and oratory can inspire you and lift you up, it can also tear you down. A preschooler is not too young to understand that certain language is inappropriate or disrespectful and the lessons they learn in these years may just be the ones that lay the foundation for a kinder, gentler, and more survivable adolescence.

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