Over the last few weeks, we have been hearing about the sudden and tragic death of Amanda Todd. Amanda was a 15-year-old girl from British Colombia who took her own life after years of relentless bullying, torment and two previous suicide attempts.
If I understand correctly, the cyber bullying of Amanda began with a topless picture of her being circulated by an adult male pedophile. He was able to follow her around online and continue to harass her even after she changed neighborhoods. Since her death, I believe this man has been tracked down, identified and is now being held in custody.
But what about the death threats given to her by other students in the school? How are these students being punished for the humiliation, depression and torment of this young girl?
Information was severely lacking in the media about the position of the parents of the teens who were bullying her. Where were they throughout this whole ordeal?
Because Amanda’s struggle was such a public one, such that friends, neighbors and school acquaintances all knew what was going on, am I naïve in my thinking that those parents also have some responsibility for how things played out?
So why am I bringing this up now?
Since Amanda’s suicide in early October, there has been much in the news about supporting her in her death, messages to her family and countless Facebook Pages where one can send respects and condolences to her loved ones.
It seems that after a tragedy occurs, our society is very eager to step up to the plate, show support and make amends. But where were all these supporters when Amanda was suffering? She needed to change schools and communities. She was being both physically bullied and cyber bullied. Her story was on YouTube weeks before her death. Her parents knew she was being tormented. So did school officials.
This girl was not struggling in silence. She reached out for help.
As a mother of three daughters, and perhaps because through my career I am hyper-aware of the effects that bullying has on self esteem, confidence, and increased levels of anxiety and depression, perhaps I go overboard in how I address bullying with my children.
Education about bullying begins in the home, or at least it aught to. Don’t we all want to teach our children to be respectful of others? Or to help another if you see that they are sad or hurt? Or try to comfort others the best way they know? We cannot rely on school or friends to teach our children how to stand up for themselves and to not be bystanders as they witness other children being picked on.
In our home, after every play date, I ask the host parents to fill me in on how the time was spent in their home, as well as to let me know if my children behaved and used their manners.
I would be mortified if I found out that my child was not being nice to a playmate. And at the very least, there would certainly be a conversation with my child about their behavior, putting themselves in the other child’s shoes, and probably some consequence being put in place. As a mother I could not sleep at night knowing I was not doing my best to teach my children the proper way to behave.
Am I so naïve to think we all want this for our children?
Last month I read an article in the Huffington Post which completely enraged me.
A woman in Texas was arrested and held in custody for 18 hours for allegedly not supervising her children while they were playing outside. This woman was watching her children from a distance. They were not toddlers. They were ages 6 and 9. They were not about to run out on the street or get hit by a car. A neighbour called authorities claiming this woman was neglecting her children and endangering them.
This brings up a question that recurs in my mind and which I feel extremely strongly about both as a mother and as a social worker. This is a topic which parents seem afraid to talk about with one another.
How much supervision is enough? Should we let our children have some freedom to discover? Or, does this put them at too high a risk? Does complete supervision allow them to explore the world around them?
How much do parents need to supervise their children to avoid having the police knock at the door?
As a child, most of my free time was spent playing outside, unsupervised. I spent many PD days, weekends and summer vacations playing outside with neighbours and friends. It was fabulous. Those neighborhood games of Hide and Seek and Tag got us out there, and active. It got us socializing and learning to fend for ourselves. It forced us to get to know our neighbours and helped create lifelong friendships.
Nowadays, it is rare to see children outside on the street or at the park without a parent or two walking around the periphery. I accept that the world can be a dangerous place, especially for children. And clearly for the sake of this discussion, I am not referring to infants or toddlers. Nor am I suggesting we let our children run wild without being guided and supervised.
But, if we can see them through the window or can hear them through the screen door, should we not allow them this opportunity to grow and learn responsibility?
Does the need for children to be supervised 24/ 7 – which is virtually impossible for any parent – not ultimately result in more time being spent indoors playing on computers, playing video games and sprawled out in front of the television? Children are far less active than a generation ago and obesity rates are skyrocketing. Children today lack social skills and have increased levels of anxiety. They are not exposed to enough social situations that could help desensitize them to their anxious ‘triggers’.
Are parents of our generation not partially responsible for all of this?
For those of you who have been reading my blog over time, I usually include suggestions of DOs and DON’Ts or a list of tasks for parents and their children.
This piece is different. There is nothing concrete about this subject matter. Parents must recognize the strengths in their children and have faith that the responsibilities they are teaching their children are WORKING. You know your kids best. Keep in mind your child’s level of emotional development, maturity and social skills. You know what method of parenting they respond to best and how far to push them.
And don’t let your nosy neighbour try to tell you otherwise.
Photo: © Cherrymerry | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
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