On October 10, in Port Coquitlam, a fifteen-year-old girl named Amanda Todd took her own life after years of horrific online and in-person bullying. She documented her personal hell in a YouTube video. I have chosen to post this video because according to the Vancouver Sun, Amanda’s mother, Carol Todd, believes that Amanda would have wanted the video to be used as an anti-bullying tool.
[Note: Please make your decision about whether or not to watch this video carefully. If you choose to watch it, you will be watching a young girl in incredible pain. Also, I urge you not to read the comments. For some reason posts like Amanda’s are a common target for trolls.]
After watching Amanda’s video last night, I lay awake and thought about my own junior high and high school years. I wondered what separated me from her, what had spared me from committing her desperate actions when I was a teenager.
The answer? Very little. Luck mostly. Like a large number of people my age, in high school I was no stranger to isolation. I was no stranger to self harm. I was no stranger to suicidal thoughts (that never went anywhere, thank goodness). I was pretty cavalier with myself and my self worth. And only because I was having difficulty coping with the regular teen stuff: boys, my body, academic and athletic pressures at school.
Luckily for me, I was never bullied. No one laid a hand on me, physically or virtually. If I had been, I don’t know what would have happened to me. If I, as a teenager already stretched towards my limits, had experienced the cruel and (quite frankly) ridiculous, uncalled for HELL that Amanda Todd was put through, I can’t say with confidence that I’d still be here. Even without bullying, being a teenager is damn tough. Add this kind of torture, and I think many of us would have been in pretty serious danger.
Luckily for me, the technologies (Facebook, live chat, and cell phones) that made Amanda Todd so vulnerable to attack and exploitation either did not exist, or were not widespread enough where I grew up to provide the opportunities for harassment and torment Todd’s bullies indulged in.
Luckily for me, I spent most of my teen years in a very small town. I’m sure that bullying did exist, but in a town this small it would have been virtually impossible for any bully to hide behind the cover of anonymity. Being from such a small, tight-knit school and community (where everybody knows everybody’s business) can have its drawbacks, but at least your friends in kindergarten are generally your friends for life, and even though I was lonely sometimes, I was never alone.
Luckily for me, I had sisters who always kept an eye out for me and always made sure I was okay. I had an army of two on my side no matter what I did or what happened to me.
Luckily for me, the lack of technology and my physical isolation out on the Prairie meant I did not have the opportunity to make the so-called “mistakes” Amanda Todd mentions in her video as bringing on the abuse. With the kind of self-esteem teenaged girls generally have, I don’t really think many young girls (myself included) would have acted very differently in Amanda’s shoes. Who can truthfully say that all of their decisions between the ages of twelve and fifteen were good ones? Thanks to the internet, childhood decisions can hound people for the rest of their lives.
So I’m lucky. So incredibly effing lucky I feel sick about it. I feel sick that it took this poor child’s death (yes, she was just a child when all this happened to her) to show me this. What separated me from Amanda Todd or teens like her? Very little. Incredible good luck.
And now I have to ask myself, what separated me from the bullies that mercilessly and relentlessly abused Amanda Todd? I’d like to say a lot. I’d like to say there is a big difference between me and them. I think I was a good person, generally. I don’t think I ever bullied anybody. But I was a smartass with a big mouth. I did gossip. I did tell mean jokes sometimes. So I would like to say to anyone I may have hurt in high school: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you feel shitty. That was wrong. I have no excuse but my own insecurity and ignorance. I hope I will raise my kids to be stronger than I was and teach them that making someone else feel awful is never okay.
I hope I will raise my kids to understand how to protect themselves on the internet. And I hope I will raise my kids to understand that there are human beings on the other side of every nasty internet message or post they may wish to fire off. That using the internet to bully rather than your fists doesn’t make your hands any cleaner.
I hope I never forget what it was like to be a teenager. I know very few of us will forget Amanda Todd.
If you are a young person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or you know a young person who may be in crisis or thinking of suicide, please know that help is available. Here in BC, you can contact Youth In B.C. via anonymous chat on their website at youthinbc.com or by telephone at 1-866-661-3311 (604-872-3311 in the Lower Mainland). Help is available 24/7. You don’t have to face this alone.