Roy Green: Bullying! Claiming the Lives of Canada’s Children
The thought of a child so filled with fear and self-loathing that he or she commits suicide is wrenchingly painful. Such was the case after fifteen year old Amanda Todd of British Columbia ended her life.
In brief phrases printed on a series of flash cards Amanda detailed her anguish on a September YouTube video. In Grade 7, she and some friends were using a camcorder to post photos online. Amanda was dared to, as she wrote “flash. So I did. 1 year later I got a msg on Facebook. Don’t know how he knew me. It said, if you don’t put on a show for me I will send ur boobs. He knew my address, school, relatives, friends, family name.”
The individual followed through with his threat. A photo of Amanda found its way into circulation. A desperate moment for a child. “Cried every night. Lost all my friends and respect people had for me” continued the YouTube flash card message.
A few short weeks later Amanda chose what she identified as the sole avenue to end her personal torment. Grief was global. The teenager who had displayed one flash card bearing the words “I have nobody. I need someone”, became everyone’s child, sister and friend. Well, almost everyone. A few heartlessly poked fun Amanda’s way. Female suicide to them became “Todding”.
Questions are asked of families of children who kill themselves. How could they not have recognized the danger?
I don’t know Amanda’s parents, but I have through my radio program gotten to know Craig Wilson, father of Mitchell of Toronto and Betty Wedman Edmonton mother of Alex. Mitchell who lived with muscular dystrophy and Alex took their own lives. Mitchell it is suspected because he couldn’t bear facing an alleged tormentor in juvenile court and Alex perhaps because he wearied completely of physical assaults to which Betty says her son was subjected.
Craig Wilson is proud of his son. Mitchell refused to submit to his disability. He would with difficulty take daily lengthy walks in order to maintain a degree of physical fitness required to combat his MD. It was during one of those walks Mitchell was allegedly attacked.
Betty Wedman publicly challenges bullying as an issue, bullies themselves, as well as politicians and school administrators who Betty maintains are insufficiently engaged in protecting the bullied and prosecuting the bullies. A message repeated regularly by parents familiar with the issue.
There’s Alex and his father Walter. Alex is particularly struggling because not only has he been exposed to consistent bullying, but also because he attended the same British Columbia school as Amanda Todd. While they didn’t know each other personally, they had mutual acquaintances and Alex wonders, if perhaps, had he known of Amanda’s distress, he might have been able to reach out to her and help.
Walter (a pseudonym) is sufficiently worried about his son’s safety that he quit a well-paying job in order to be available at the end of the school day in the event Alex (also a pseudonym) might require Dad’s protection. Walter and Alex speak of just such a day. Alex was followed from school by a taunting mob and tells of one youth initiating a physical confrontation outside Alex’ family home. When Walter joined the fray, pushing the attacker away from his son, the crowd’s reaction was initially to taunt. That was before the criminal assault charge was laid. A charge dismissed only days before the scheduled court date.
Walter insists the school administration as well as the original police officer detailed to provide support offered little of significance to provide protection for Alex or consequences for the alleged bullies.
Lynne MacIntyre is the Ontario mother of 15 year old Mac. Mac, says Lynne, has never had had a friend. Bullying is Mac’s only consistent childhood memory. An attempt at arranging a birthday party for Mac resulted in not one invitation receiving the courtesy of a reply. Mac was eight at the time. MacIntyre is a determined champion for her son. Unwilling to accept either admonition or platitudes she challenges vague policy all the way to the premier’s office.
After one particularly compelling on air exchange I was contacted by the press secretary for the Ontario Minister of Education. The Minister was interested in Lynne MacIntyre’s story. The Minister wished to speak with MacIntyre and engage her in some manner in the McGuinty government’s planned attack on bullying. According to MacIntyre the interest from the Ministry was short-lived, the commitment similarly temporary.
The Internet has compounded the bullying problem. No longer is gratuitous aggression limited to name calling and push and shove engagements boomers would recognize. Today social networking sites are engaged to taunt, belittle and urge already emotionally fragile young people to commit suicide. At a time in life when peer acceptance can be critical to self-image such repeated assaults may eventually bear unwelcome fruit.
This column would be incomplete without a word for bullies. No statistics or mental health professional quotes though. Instead, it’s the experience Bradley, a former bully. These are Bradley’s words from a recent email.
“I had many targets, but one in particular was my favourite. There was a boy several grades ahead of me. Because of a physical disability the boy was very small and had a high pitched voice. He was extremely easy to bully and I relished every moment. I would follow him around the school and push and trip him and call him names. I felt so powerful being able to pick on someone older than me.
One day in the fall while walking home from school with my brother I saw my favourite target. My brother watched as I stole the boy’s hat. I tossed it to my brother and told him to throw it back. My brother joined in but reluctantly and eventually stopped. He didn’t like this kind of game. I ran around taunting the boy, holding the hat in the air where he couldn’t reach it. He kept getting more and more angry and I felt more and more powerful. When I finally grew bored of picking on him I threw his hat to the ground and stomped on it. I laughed at him as he collapsed on the grass and started crying.
The next day the boy didn’t come to school. I felt giddy thinking perhaps I had scared him away. A couple of days passed and still he did not return. Then a week. Then more. Eventually I forgot about the boy. I had many more targets to choose from.
Perhaps a month after the incident an announcement was made that the boy had passed away. Apparently due to some complication with his disability his heart had given out. Inside me I felt something break. All of this happened the day after I had really tormented him. Was I the cause for his death?
I admitted what I had done to my parents. They were disappointed in me, but assured me I had nothing to do with the boy’s death. I didn’t believe them. I don’t know if I do even today.
Everything changed for me then. I stopped bullying. To this day I regret my actions, in particular toward that little boy whom I tormented every single day.”
For the bullied Bradley has this advice. “It eventually does get better. Don’t make the mistakes I did. Try to feel less helpless and more in control. To the bullies, I urge you to remember that toying with the lives of those who are weaker is not the way to happiness. Eventually you will push too far and live with regrets about things you wish had never happened.”
Bradley, you see, wasn’t always a bully. He had been a bullied child before deciding to turn the tables.
Bradley is 23 years of age. Amanda Todd was but 15; Alex Wedman 17 and Mitchell Wilson 11. The son of the police officer who called to share his child had threatened bullying related suicide is 8.
Roy Green is host of The Roy Green Show, a national program heard weekends on Corus Radio. Follow Roy on Twitter @theRoyGreenShow.