Cyberbullying hurts


By Father Joseph Breighner

I’m not sure that we “older” adults can fully comprehend how difficult it can be to be young, or to be a parent, today. Allow me to share what one mother shared with me:

“My 15-year-old daughter was funny, exuberantly happy and kind-hearted, tender-hearted, even – too tenderhearted, in fact, in a world that can be so cruel.”

Then the young girl began to be bullied by a teenage boy. The mother continues:

“She was not a sullen, uncommunicative teen. She was not considered an outcast, or different. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. And therein lies the horror. It should happen to no one.”

Allow me to quote just a few of the Tweets her daughter received via Twitter:

“i hatehatehatehatehatehatehate you. Next time my name rolls off your tongue, choke on it.. , and DIE”

“You are proof that God has a sense of humor. All day I thought of you…I was at the zoo. I’ve come across decomposed bodies that are less offensive than you are.”

What can a parent do about such bullying? The mother writes:

“We have heard well-meaning people say, ‘ignore it,’ (and) ‘get over it.’ We at first took this tack as well, but we have come to believe that this is a complete misunderstanding of what our kids are facing today. No longer does a bully say something nasty in the schoolyard and the child goes home to his sanctuary. Instead, cyber-bullying is pervasive and invasive. The moment a tweet like this goes out to maybe a couple hundred followers of the bully, it may be instantly picked up and retweeted by many others or even just passed on to the targeted kid to let them know. It is gossip and hatred at the speed of electronic media, as close as their cell phone or computer screen. I have seen kids who literally sleep with their cells in their hands so as not to miss a message. It is not something you can just ignore and it goes away.”

The parents sought help from every source. They found a counselor for their daughter. They sought help from civil authorities, school authorities, police, the courts and on and on. No one did anything to stop the bullying. The tweets from the boy to this girl got worse:

“no one f_?_?_ing likes you. It’s just sad.”

“i hope you somehow see this and cry yourself to sleep then kill yourself… might as well your just a worthless piece of s_?_?_.”

Not long after this, the little girl did kill herself.

The mother’s letter continues:

“Before this happens to another family, understand the power that words can have; the power to uplift, and the power to maim. Parents, do not allow your child to block you as their ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ online as the parents of her tormentor did.

“Our world, especially on reality TV, music, and even amongst some of our leaders and political parties, often portrays, even glorifies, name-calling, rudeness and bad behavior. Challenge yourself and your families to buck this trend. I’m not saying to turn it off, but talk about it. Be aware, and refuse to allow that meanness in your life.

“Like most of you, I imagine, when (our) kids were young, we taught them the Golden Rule, and that if they didn’t have something nice to say, not to say anything at all. … It’s time to keep teaching that, even to your teens and to each other.

“Our personal faith teaches us that our lives should show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Even a person of no faith could agree that this is the way to live happily and peaceably.

“So, show love. Speak up when you see wrong or hear hatred. Practice peace.”

A powerful letter isn’t it? And let’s remember to pray for all the families of our world. And let’s include in our prayers the young man, who once did the bullying, that he will dedicate the rest of his life to doing good to others. None of us can change our past. All of us can be our best selves in the future. Let’s honor the memory of that young girl by creating only happy memories for the people in our lives.

Read more about Grace and her loving family in this touching article by Loyola magazine 

Copyright (c) Jan. 24, 2013

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.