It’s inevitable in the wake of tragedy that everybody starts asking, “What is wrong with society that allowed this to happen?” Amanda Todd, a BC youth who took her own life earlier this month, is the most recent example which has brought bullying — specifically cyber-bullying — to the forefront of public discourse. Though undoubtedly good things will emerge from increased awareness of the problem of bullying, it will never entirely be eradicated, and will continue to be something young people will have to deal with on an individual basis. While the question of how best to limit bullying in schools is more the realm of parents, administration and the students themselves, university-age students are no less affected by bullying. To the flood of recent high school graduates who hit campus this September, a generation raised on social media and technology, this tragedy is an opportunity to reflect on your own experiences with bullying and come to terms with it — while hopefully trying to make amends and help the current victims of bullying.
Amanda Todd told her history with cyber-bullying through a touching YouTube video that has been seen by millions. A youth sexually blackmailed and manipulated via Facebook and relentlessly stalked and abused both online and at school by her classmates resulted in her severe depression and eventual suicide. While the circumstances of her case are extreme, it demonstrates that the prevalence and accessibility of social media has made bullying easier and more dangerous. For those whose education pre-dates Facebook, bullying was mostly confined to the schoolyard, and those beset by torment could hopefully find solace at home or amongst their friends. Now, with widespread access to communications technology, there’s no secure place to hide anymore. With a few keystrokes, someone can find and hurt you any time, any place. Combined with the tendency for people to be more open and forthcoming with personal information in a social media setting, the potential for someone to harm a child’s fragile developing ego is all too easy — and very frightening.
Unfortunately, as with all systemic tragedies of this sort, there’s no easy solution. Phones, computers, social media and bullying are unfortunately here to stay. Hopefully, counselling services and anti-bullying campaigns will become more of permanent fixture in schools while fostering more open communication regarding bullying between students, their parents and administrators. For university students, some of whom may have gone through the torment that Amanda Todd did not so long ago, this should be seen as a chance to be open about our own experiences with bullying and recognize the influence it can have in your adult life. Share your experiences so that younger people, or those who are afraid to come forward will see that they’re not only when it comes to being victims of bullying.
This is not to say everyone who’s been bullied has been through something as extreme as Amanda Todd — though there are counselling services available on campus, and you’re encouraged to use them if you need it. But there are more subtle effects that bullying can have: the skewed world view that comes from people hurtful towards others for no reason. Too easily one can grow to expect the worst in people, because that’s what they’ve seen in their formative years. The trick is to recognize that everyone gets bullied at some point or another, and that in life there will always be abrasive people who are out to cause harm to others that you’ll have to put up with — and that luckily, they are the minority of people.
There should be comfort in the fact that as they grow older and more mature, bullies should make the changes as they enter adulthood. Things never stay the same, and not everyone fits the stereotype of the schoolyard bully when school ends. But most, if not all of us, are guilty of unfairly teasing someone else at school. The tragedy of Amanda Todd is a chance to reflect on the things you’ve done or said that may have hurt someone, feel guilty and apologize or help those that are still victimized by bullies. If social media makes bullying easier, then it should be just as effective at making amends.
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