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Online statistic firm “Statistic Brain” reports 52 percent of students reported being cyber bullied. And it’s not just the high school kids: 44 percent of students from middle school report being bullied.

Suicide by 12-year old girl: a trend that is growing - and morhing - with speed of internet

A memorial for 12-year old victim Rebecca Ann Sedwick.
Diane Lilli

Rebecca Ann Sedwick was a 12-year old girl with typical tween favorites: her cell phone, her apps, and her friends. But this Miami girl also became a grim statistic last week, when she killed herself on September 9, after being bullied by a gang of relentless bullies for over a year.

Suicide is one of the most relentless causes for deaths of young people today. Every 13.7 minutes, someone dies by suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collects data about deaths by suicide, and reports that In 2010, 38,364 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.

Now, pre-teens and teens, always the first to jump on any new trend, are using the tools of the digital age, including Facebook, Instagram, twitter and emails to bully their victims. Rebecca, a victim of such abuse, was being horrifically bullied with texts, photos and insults by numerous digital venues. And, in the end, she jumped off a concrete platform near her childhood home, leaving behind her the most valuable clue she possessed: her cellphone, complete with her new Kik Messenger twitter style app name, “That Dead Girl”.

The problem with all social media is the warp speed it morphs. Ask anyone under 30 about Facebook, and you’ll get a laugh. “That’s for the old folks,” said one teen, standing outside Grover Cleveland Middle School. “We use Snap chat and other stuff now.”

Snapchat is an App that allows you to post a video or photo, but only for a very brief time, only for mere seconds. The idea is to avoid any shared photos or videos, and to “erase” the content immediately after viewing.

Locally, the schools in New Jersey are grappling with the ever-changing methods that kid use to bully, or to be bullied.

Montclair Superintendent of Schools Dr. Penny Maccormack said the issue of suicide is something the entire school district is focused upon, at all times.

“The district takes bullying and suicide awareness very seriously,” she noted. “We trained all administrators in suicide awareness and HIB this summer, which we followed up with a new HIB handbook to be shared with all staff.  We are scheduling suicide awareness training for school staff and ongoing HIB training using the newly developed handbook as a guide for the training.  Each school has a School Safety Team and Anti-bullying coordinator who meets regularly with our district anti-bullying coordinator Linda Mithaug (Director of Pupil Services).  Current training sessions have included a focus on cyber bullying.”

Online statistic firm “Statistic Brain” reports 52 percent of students reported being cyber bullied. And it’s not just the high school kids: 44 percent of students from middle school report being bullied.

The conundrum here is, of course, that the kids who parents and school districts need to protect are also part of the constantly changing and often secretive world of digital and App usage. Like a hidden third dimension, these pre-teens and teens operate without any parental knowledge, deep inside innocently named Apps that can lead, as it did in Florida, to bullying and suicide.

Montclair resident Joan Checca lost her nephew, Patrick Baldwin, last November to death by suicide.

“You never know how one kind word can light a glimmer of hope in the face of such a challenging illness as depression,” said Checca. “Just the message: you are not alone. can be a lifesaving moment. The truth of depression when it is severe is that it is sometimes fatal and we are helpless to stop it and we are left with our grief and unfounded guilt as we struggle as survivors of loved ones who lose this battle. We need to take the stigma out of mental illness and treat it like every other potentially fatal disease. With compassion and support.”

But, in this world of cell phones that can not only keep you connected but also slam you with hurtful connections, new Apps are creating a dangerous virtual world for children and teens that can lead to suicide.

What can a parent do?

For now, the only thing that may help is to keep the lines of communication open with your children. And, once you know about an App, you had better believe your kids won’t be using it anymore.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady said that 12-year old Rebecca Ann Sedwick was "absolutely terrorized on social media," by about 15 girls.

Anti-bullying efforts in our schools and New Jersey are admirable, but need to go much deeper into the problem, since cellphone Apps are now the mainstay of every child in school, and can lead not only to communication but also suicide.

DoSomething.org offers this information about cyber bullying.

Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.

70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online.

Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.

68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.

81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person.

90% of teens who have seen social-media bullying say they have ignored it. 84% have seen others tell cyber bullies to stop.

Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.

Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.

About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once.

About 75% have visited a website bashing another student.

Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.


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