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Another Child Commits Suicide after Cyber-Bullying

Cyber-Stalking and Cyber-Bullying Have No Place in a Civil Society

What should we make as a supposedly civil society of the fact that yet another child, Rebecca Sedwick, committed suicide after being bullied through Facebook posts? I’ve blogged about this disease infecting our society many times before. Cyber-bullying is the most cowardly of acts that attacks the fragile self-esteem of youngsters at their most impressionable age.

On September 10, Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide by jumping off the roof of an abandoned concrete factory. Two girls were arrested for cyber-stalking/bullying after allegedly being part of a group of 15 girls who tormented Rebecca at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, Florida.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said one of the two girls was singled out for arrest after she posted an insensitive tweet about Rebecca's death.

'Yes IK [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd [sic] she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a f***],' Guadalupe Shaw allegedly posted.

Cyber-bullying has become all too common in part because of social media. The bullying can be done anonymously. The party being bullied may not even know the person doing the bullying. According to a University of Michigan study, the consequences of bullying are short and long term and cover a wide range of severity. At the beginning of bullying, the self-esteem of the victim is hit very hard. The victim feels guilty and confused at the same time, trying to figure out why this is happening to them. As it continues, social skills begin to fade away even more and depression starts to set in. If no help is found or if the bullying isn’t even noticed, more severe consequences start to surface. Not so much in middle school, but in the beginning of high school, victims may drop out of school all together. In the most severe cases, suicide is considered and eventually carried out. In the long run, many bullying victims fail to thrive in adulthood: they distrust relationships, are fearful, experience isolation and have difficulties standing up for themselves.

What motivates youngsters to bully a classmate? Should we blame it on the lack of parental control; the lack of setting standards of behavior; or the failure to set boundaries for what is and is not appropriate? I’d say it is all of the above and a school system that turns a blind eye towards the problem. The schools are not being proactive in preventing cyber-bullying from happening in the first place.

The most bothersome part of the Rebecca Sedwick story for me is the reaction of the parents. The parents of one of the teenage girls accused of bullying Rebecca to suicide said they monitored their daughter's Facebook activities nightly and saw no signs of bullying, leading them to believe someone hacked her account.

"I would check her Facebook every time she would get on it," the suspect's mother told ABC News. The teen's father said, "If we saw something that was not right, we would've addressed it and it would've ended right then."

I have a flash for these parents. Kids can access their Facebook accounts on other computers, even those in the school. Kids are smarter than their parents when it comes to inventing evil ways to hurt another child. The answer is not “strict” oversight of their Facebook account but to teach their kids about the dangers of cyber-bullying. Perhaps parents should share one of the many videos that address the problem and discuss it with their kids. After all, the guilty kids may, themselves, be bullied down the road.

The ethical standards that should be taught by our schools need to catch up with the technology. Students must be taught an Internet ethic just as they should be taught societal ethics in the classroom. Given the amount of time most teenagers spend online each day, accountability and personal responsibility must become part of each school's response to cyber-bullying. There should be zero tolerance for such activities with suspension and ultimately expulsion the penalties for harassing another student in cyberspace.

I ask: “Where is the moral outrage? Do we have to wait until a horrific event such as a mass teenage suicide occurs before passing legislation making cyber-bullying a federal crime as are discrimination and sexual harassment?”

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 5, 2013