When I first spotted Amanda Todd’s video posted on an anti-bullying website, I thought her to be an exceptionally brave young woman.  If you’re unfamiliar with her story, she’ll tell you about it herself.  In a nine-minute You-Tube video that starts with “Hi!”  (the exclamation point is dotted with a heart) and ends with a gruesome tale of heartlessness, cyber-stalking, assault, anxiety, and depression, Amanda Todd will, via a series of flashcards, chronicle her long journey of abuse.

It was only after I had watched the video that I learned she had committed suicide, and I was beside myself.  I was devastated.  How could...?  But where was...?  If only there were...?  Who the hell...?  And that’s the one that stuck:  who the hell would let their children torment another human being in such a way?  Where were her perpetrator's MOTHERS for crying out loud?

My husband, A., thinks that they, the mothers, probably didn’t know what their kids were doing.  “Ignorance and indifference are totally different,” he reminded me.  And he’s right.  It’s one thing to know that your child is essentially murdering another child  through cyber-bullying and proceed to ignore it, it’s quite another to not know about the cyber-bullying at all.  (The comments these kids left when they found out Amanda had survived an attempted suicide were the kinds of things you would hear in a civil war; they spoke to her as if she were sub-human, as if she somehow deserved verbal, emotional, physical abuse, and even death.  DEATH!  To be fair, this is her version of the story.  But even if she’s exaggerated the details, she has clearly been the victim of repeated crimes.)  Perhaps some mothers fall somewhere in between:  they know their children are participating in unsavory ways in online conversations, but assume these contributions are harmless?  This seems even worse than complete ignorance or complete indifference.

So where does that leave us mothers? Do we disallow the use of technology unless it can be carefully monitored?  Do we then closely monitor our kids even as they become pubescent and confusing and dependent on access to private space? Or do we think bigger?  This morning  I woke up and told my three-year-old this story:

Sarah: Yesterday I found out that a girl named Amanda Todd died.
M:  That’s a silly name.
Sarah:  Why is it a silly name?
M:  Why is that her name?
Sarah:  That’s the name her mommy gave her, just like M is the name I gave you and D is the name we gave your little brother.
M:  Oh, okay.
Sarah:  So this girl Amanda died.  I feel very sad about it and I want to teach you something.
M:  Why did she die?
Sarah:  That’s the story I’m going to tell you.  See, Amanda made some bad choices.  Do you ever make bad choices?  Like when you whine and cry instead of just asking politely?
M:  (hesitantly) Um, yes.
Sarah:  Right, you make bad choices sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.  Mommys make bad choices sometimes. EVERYBODY makes bad choices sometimes.  As long as we’re not hurting other people, it’s okay to make bad choices sometimes.  It doesn’t mean we’re bad people.
M:  Okay.
Sarah:  So this girl Amanda made some bad choices and the kids she went to school with were REALLY mean to her because she made some bad choices.  Now, if somebody makes a bad choice and it hurts you, it’s okay to tell that person that you don’t like what they’re doing.  Is it mean to say “I don’t like that, please stop”?
M:  No...?
Sarah:  Right, that’s not mean.  Is it mean to say, “I don’t like you, you’re not my friend, you’re not a good person.”
M:  Yes, that’s mean.
Sarah:  Right, that IS mean.  We wouldn’t say those mean things to our friends.  It’s okay to tell somebody that you don’t like what they’re doing.  It’s okay to ask them to stop.  But it’s not okay to be mean just because somebody made some bad choices.
M:  So why did she die?
Sarah:  So Amanda felt so sad that these people had been mean to her that she died.  Her heart hurt so much that she died.
M:  Oh.  I don’t want to die.
Sarah:  No, of course not.  Well, everybody dies at some point, but usually we get old first.  Amanda was still a kid and she died because people were mean to her and she felt really, really sad.  I want you to know that it’s NOT okay to be mean to people just to make them sad.  Do you understand?
M:  Yes, Mommy.  Will you tell me that story again?

I did.  And then I did again.  And it made me feel better.  And (I think) it introduced something simple but profound to M in a way that he could digest. As despondent as Amanda Todd’s death makes me feel about the state of our connection to our own humanity, I felt better teaching my son the basics of decent versus indecent behavior.  I hope other parents take a cue and talk to their children, young as they may be, about the same topic.  By the time they need to apply the lesson they’re already out of your sphere of influence.  

Let’s teach our kids early how to recognize and respond to the emotions of others. Let’s raise a generation of kids who are NOT perpetrators of these cyber crimes.  Let’s not shy away from this because it’s ambitious and sticky and difficult.  Because while it is all those things, it is also imperative.  Let’s do this together. Let’s do it for Amanda.



11/05/2012 8:34pm

great example Sarah. I just want to add that Dads also need to teach and live the same message for their sons and daughters. My boy was tormented in school, finished hs doing independent study, had a plan when he was 13- I am thankful each day he told us about his plan and we could help him through the next few years. He is one of the two most amazing young men i know. He has such an open heart it is truly amazing to me.

Super Sarah
11/05/2012 10:42pm

Yes, Tania! Absolutely! I get so accustomed to the mommy-centric vocabulary that I forget how much team effort is involved in child-rearing. I found myself thinking today: if school teaches NOTHING else (not reading, not writing, and certainly not 'rithmetic), it should teach appropriate human behavior. What could POSSIBLY be more important than that? Okay, okay, so literacy IS paramount for an advanced society. But so is treating each other like human beings. Your son is lucky to have you, though I'm sorry he had to suffer so much. I can only imagine what it's like to witness the person you want to protect most as they navigate the ultra-mean world that is known as school. Now the question is: what can we do about it?

Lacy Bo Bacy
11/08/2012 8:17am

I think this should be part of what teachers teach in school. Thank you for writing this. I hope things really start to change.

11/11/2012 9:45pm

You are an AWESOME mom!!! What a great way to introduce your child to kindness and empathy! I encourage you to take a look at jaylenschallenge.org--he is a 12yo boy who is working on eliminating bullying in schools. He is a really amazing young man with an infectious smile :)

Your son is truly blessed to have a mom like you!!

Super Sarah
11/12/2012 8:59am

Wow, thanks! I'm looking forward to checking out jaylen's sight later today... when my baby isn't decorating the floor with omelette and my toddler (preschooler?) isn't begging for a reading lesson! Looking forward to checking out your own blog, too!

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