[Warning: The last few seconds of this video contain graphic content]
A month ago, a Canadian teen named Amanda Todd posted a heart-wrenching video describing her breakdown after a cyberbully broadcast a topless image he coerced from her when she was in seventh grade. The incident triggered a spiral of misery from which she could never escape. In the video, she stands silently turning over cards printed with phrases that chronicle her journey into depression and self-harm. "Hello," she begins, "I've decided to tell you my never ending story." On Wednesday night, the 15 year old was found dead in her home. According to the National Post, the initial coroner's report indicated that she took her own life.
In the introduction to her YouTube video titled, My Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self-Harm, she writes, "I'm not doing this for attention. I'm doing this as an inspiration and to show I can be strong." Although YouTube removed the video for a few hours on Thursday for "inappropriate content" (the last few seconds contain a graphic image of Todd's cut arm), the girl's mother, Carol, has pushed for it to be shared as an anti-bullying tool. "That's what my daughter would have wanted," she told the Vancouver Sun.
Todd's death, which occurs during National Bullying Prevention Month is a tragic wake-up call. Dr. Karen Ruskin, parenting expert, family therapist, and author of the book 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children, tells Shine, "I tell parents quite frankly, your kid will experience an opportunity to bully, be a bystander to bullying, or be bullied themselves." Ruskin says all kids need to be actively coached on how to stand up for others. "If you are a bystander, you are participating." They also need to have a safety plan if they ever experience bullying.
According to Todd's video, in seventh grade, she and her friends started going online "to meet new people" and making videos of themselves for fun. Viewers posted "likes" and commented that she was beautiful. Todd says a stranger friended her and convinced her to flash her breasts for the webcam. The adolescent brain is hardwired to be impulsive and take risks. "Kids are impulsive naturally," says Ruskin, "and the problem is, our gadgets exacerbate that. The same way they socialize today is also what can be used to threaten or harass. It's another means of hurt."
A year later, the stranger contacted her on Facebook and threatened to make public a picture of her bare chest. She was terrified because he knew her address and had information about her friends and family. The police showed up at her house to report the picture had been widely shared. Amanda descended into depression and developed a panic disorder. This led to drugs and alcohol. Although she switched schools, her cyberbully stalked her and created a Facebook page using the image for a profile picture. She says she "cried every night and lost all my friends and respect."
Again, she moved schools, but the torment continued. She had no friends but an older boy flirted with her and they "hooked up," Amanda writes in the video. When his girlfriend found out, Amanda was attacked by a mob of about fifteen kids. "Teachers ran over but I just went and lay in a ditch and my dad found me." That night, she attempted to commit suicide by drinking bleach. She moved to her mother's house in another town. Kids from her former school hounded her online by posting pictures of bleach and taunting her to try killing herself again.
Todd described feeling as if she could never escape her past, whether it's the picture or her mistake with the boy. She said in the video that despite counseling and medication, she couldn't shake her depression or anxiety and admitted to cutting herself. The video ends, "I have nobody. I need someone."
Over the last two days, there has been an outpouring of grief for Todd across Canada. Over 300,000 people around the world have watched her video, and tens of thousands have expressed their outrage and sadness online. "Your life had purpose," tweeted one user at #RIPAmandaTodd, which has been trending on Twitter. "Your story will live on long after your tormentors are gone." Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, posted a brief video on Thursday offering her condolences to Todd's family and friends and saying, "No one deserves to be bullied. No one earns it, no one asks for it, it isn't a right of passage. Bullying has to stop. Every child, everyone needs to be able to feel safe at school."
It's too late for a lovely young girl who eloquently shared her suffering in order to help others. But what we can do is teach our children to be courageous and have empathy for others. As kids' knowledge of the Internet and social media outpaces that of adults, we need to take time to learn about both the advances and the risks associated with being online. Anyone who is involved with young people, whether it be parents, friends or educators, also must look unflinchingly at what kids' real lives are like, and not make assumptions that peer pressure and pain are a normal part of growing up.
The National Bullying Prevention Center website has many resources on identifying and stopping bullying and harassment.