The news this year has brought us a steady stream of stories about cyberbullying leading to suicide. Parents are rightfully growing concerned and seeking answers to how we can protect our children and our teens. However, the key to understanding how cyberbullying leads to suicide, and how to prevent it, is understanding the truth which has been here long before the Internet: Words can kill.
In fact, I would argue the Internet has simply brought to light a “paper trail” which has existed behind teen suicide for decades. Bullies have always been among us and our kids. Social media is unique in that this activity is now being transcripted and brought to reality for the rest of us. A revolt against social media and technology will not solve this problem. Understanding how words affect the young is the key.
There is nothing more dangerous than a small world.
Most of us adults have learned the world is a big place with a lot of different cultures and ideas. Kids, however, often live in very small worlds. Most children start life believing that the whole world is no different than their family and their school. In teenage years, conflict often grows with family, shrinking the teenage world even further into their circle of peers or “friends.” Bullying can then create the reality that the whole world is hostile and unwelcoming.
People who say, “kids need to toughen up” are being cruel and downright ignorant. Words only hurt us less as we grow and mature because our world gets bigger, and if we find a piece of it unwelcoming we can move on. Even then, the words of those close to us still cause us pain. To kids, who lack experience in life, words ARE the world. If a child or teen thinks the whole world hates them, they aren’t going to want to stay here.
Let’s face it: Schools can’t raise kids
At best, we can say that schools simply don’t have the resources to do anything more than maintain a constant march of curriculum. At worst, the culture of most institutions, not just school, prioritize conformity over compassion. If you don’t fit in, then YOU have the problem. The truth of it all is that sometimes kids and teens think the world is hostile and unwelcoming because, frankly, it is.
Let us also face the reality that even though there are wonderful and amazing teachers out there, they are outnumbered. Not by bad teachers, by the students. For every one encouraging teacher, there may be dozens of cruel and ridiculing peers. Ultimately, no rules, policies, or legislation in our schools are going to protect our youth.
What is your child’s world?
When a child wakes up in this world, the world they get to know is the one we show them. All of us have to learn to take responsibility for this. What kind of world have you described to your children? What kind of world have you exposed them too? Do they have a variety of positive influences, or are they bunkered and isolated between home and school? Do they know we need them, and we are excited to see what they have to offer? Do they know they are accepted? Do they know they have a place in our world?
Children and teens who survive with their self-image “in-tact” are not the ones who had their Internet usage restricted or social media accounts monitored, but the ones who knew the world was a much bigger place than what they saw at school or among their peers. Words can kill, but they can also bring life and joy. Talk to your children, and tell them about the world. Tell them the good, the bad, the ugly. Most importantly, tell them we are so glad they finally got here, and we can’t wait to see how they will improve it. We need to do this as parents, and as a community.
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
– Matthew 18:2-6 (ESV)