The media loves the phrase 'bullycide,' and the kids like Phoebe Prince who take their lives in the wake of cyberbullying are never far from the thoughts of parents. But are we doing our kids a disservice by stressing the link between cyberbullying and suicide.
When I picked up my friend's 10-year-old daughter Gabby for art class last spring, I asked her how her day had gone. “Good,” she said. “A guy came to our school and told us about his son, who killed himself because he was bullied.”
I mulled this over in my head for a few days. Something about it didn't sit right with me. Now, I'm sure that the presenter didn't actually say that his son was bullied, ergo he killed himself. But that's apparently what Gabby took away from it.
For example, the 2001 film BULLY profiled four students who were victimized by bullying, two of whom had taken their own lives. Is the underlying message of the movie that 50% of kids who are bullied end up committing suicide? Again, something just doesn't sit right with me.
Statistics say that roughly 50%-60% of kids have been cyberbullied. Yet there are not hundreds or thousands of bullying-related suicides occurring every day.
I certainly don't want to make light of the pain that victims feel that has caused them to take their own lives. Bullying does cause serious damage to victims.
But we should also be very careful not to teach our kids that suicide is a natural reaction to being bullied. When we do, we risk copycats or kids who are more likely to consider suicide as a viable option to end bullying.
Bullycide cases are tragic, but teaching that bullying ends in suicide is missing the point. Bullying causes mental distress, social anxiety, depression, poor school performance, and can even cause them to become physically ill. The majority of cyberbullying victims don't kill themselves, but they do suffer. And they often suffer in silence.
Even though the headlines about bullycide are the most attention-grabbing, we should all remember that the damage most often caused by cyberbullying is invisible.
Jenny Evans is a mother of four and a blogger specializing in parenting, childhood, and family issues.