Written by Nicola Mar
Two years ago, while flipping through the TV channels, I ended up on the Dr. Phil show. His guest for the day was a mother talking about the suicide of her daughter. Her daughter was bullied and cyber bullied to the point where she felt like her only option to escape the pain was to commit suicide. This story touched my heart, and I started wondering how the rise of the internet has changed the number of teenagers who are being bullied.
Upon researching statistics, I discovered that approximately two million adolescents attempt suicide every year in the US, resulting in about 4600 deaths. Half of those deaths are attributed to bullying. These numbers were shocking to me, and I wondered why more attention is not paid to this deadly epidemic. Is the subject considered taboo? Do parents believe bullying is just a coming-of-age behavior? A rite of passage?
I was bullied in school as young as four years old. My family moved to Austria and German was not my first language. I was extremely shy and refused to speak in class. One girl took advantage of this and tormented me every day, calling me stupid and stealing things from my cubby. It made me feel awful. Every afternoon I came home from school crying, trying to explain to my parents what this girl was doing to me. Even then, in the late ‘80s, it took many months of this behavior until my father decided to come to school with me and take care of this situation by informing the teachers what was happening.
I don’t remember a lot from those young years, but I remember the bullying like it was yesterday. However, I also remember how relieved I was when school ended every day and I could come home to my loving family. Today, this has changed. With the rise of the internet came cyber bullying. Bullying is no longer restricted to school hours because kids are connected to each other 24/7 through social media. Bullies are able to access the attention of their peers and inflict mental and emotional pain. Because victims are sometimes too ashamed and embarrassed to tell their parents, they deal with the pain during all hours, feeling isolated and unable to cope.
Physical symptoms are manifesting in different ways than just being harmed on the school playground. Stress and depression from bullying in all its varieties is causing teens to self-harm, develop eating disorders, and just remain in a state where they refuse to take care of themselves. Because they feel that their parents can’t understand what they are going through, they remain silent, and many consider suicide.
My parents believed my harassment was only teasing, like many parents may think today. This belief may have been accepted back then, but it cannot continue today. Parents need to change the way they think about bullying and start talking to their children about it from a young age. Explain what bullying is, how it can be dealt with, and why it is absolutely not acceptable. The best thing they can do is to sign up for social media accounts and start monitoring what their children are doing online. They should become familiar with these sites so that if bullying becomes a problem they are able to talk to their children about it, tell the school, and even talk to the bully and his/her parents. Awareness is the only way we are going to stop this epidemic. Sharing stories, spreading knowledge, and not thinking about bullying as a normal school occurrence can protect children and save lives.
Additional reading: CDC
Bio: Nicola Mar
Nicola is a New York City author and poet who grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Nicola is the author of the book SANTA;, which is about the physical and emotional deterioration of a victim of bullying.