• Ryan M. Pierson

Cyberbullying is Not a Joke

Suicide hits families hardest when it appears to come out of the blue, without clear or recognizable warning signs. These signs, however, can present themselves through someone’s online profile and activities. Often, depression hits as the result of chemical imbalances and hormonal issues related to adolescence, but that is rarely the only contributing factor. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in suicide among teens. This problem, which has existed for many years, has long been linked to bullying in school. Today, that bullying is no longer bound by the confines of the classroom. It takes place on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and lesser known networks such as Formspring.

Social networking is one of the latest challenges facing parents today. As both a common form of communication between peers and a source of information, social networks are becoming increasingly difficult for parents to ignore or shrug off as a simple trend. Parents are challenged with not only reading the signs of their child’s mood and general demeanor; they have to maintain awareness of what they go through online.

Cyberbullying is a big deal, and the ramifications of it can last well past a person’s high school years. In 2010 alone, 34 teens committed suicide as the result of cyberbullying that took place on personal Web sites, social networks, and various other forums across the Web.

What was once a form of harassment limited by the bounds of your local school and surrounding community is now taking place on social networks, personal Web pages, and any other site where communication between members of a community can take place. Because of this, a bullied teen has very little escape from the relentless teasing imposed by their peers. You don’t really have a daily escape. Simply not going online isn’t an answer, especially when there’s no reason you should be denied valuable communication and technological tools due to the acts of others.

In 2008, a 19-year-old committed suicide live on Justin.TV after being encouraged by members of the online community. Hours after he fell asleep from the overdose, viewers continued a seemingly relentless online assault on the then-deceased individual. After the police arrived, and news broke that the young man had died of his overdose, many of the cyberbullies that participated in encouraging the action removed their posts.

Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old student, was harassed by her classmates both in class and online until she felt there was no other alternative than ending her own life. After her passing, classmates continued to mock her in memory by sharing Photoshopped photos of her and turning a tragic event into a laughing matter. The psychological implications of this kind of activity affects not only the student it’s targeted towards, but the student’s friends in a way that continues throughout their lives.

That’s not to say cyberbullying was the sole or primary cause of the action, but this semi-anonymous online world in which we participate gives a false sense of reality to bullies. It lifts them up and even pushes them to be meaner and harsher with their verbal or written teasing — the ramifications of which would be enough to push an already unstable situation over the edge.

In a time when we are just beginning to understand the causes and best treatment methods for depression, we’re also challenged with new negative influences that only serve to counter that treatment. Understanding how your son or daughter gets online, and how you can help them overcome cyberbullying, is vital to fighting this growing trend.

Cyberbullying is not a joke. No matter how thick of a skin you have, there’s always a breaking point. The question is, how many times do we have to see young and bright lives lost to such a senseless and heartless act on the part of their peers?

Note: Earlier this year, I lost a family member to suicide. He wasn’t the first, and we hope and pray he will be the last. Suicide is a very important subject that needs to be addressed early, often, and with extreme amounts of clarity. Suicide is never the answer. If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts or showing signs of depression, please call 1-800-273-8255 or your local suicide prevention hotline.


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