Straight Talk Advice

Oct 27, 2010

Cybullied teen hints at suicide

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: How can I help my younger sister deal with cyberbullying? We share a room so I know how torn up she is and hear her crying every night. She’s somewhat overweight, doesn’t have a boyfriend, and isn’t the most attractive person in the world. However, she’s not “grossly obese and ugly” or a “dyke” to give examples of the mean things being said. She has become so paranoid about her body that she won’t undress in front of anybody but me, no longer attends sleepovers, and hardly leaves our room except for school. Our mom isn’t sympathetic. She says you have to deal with mean people your whole life and that she learned to deal with it as a teenager. But try telling that to a 15-year-old victim! When I read about bullied teenagers committing suicide, it scares me to death. Last night my sister said that I may be getting my own room soon which I take as a call for help. — Sister

Jessie 18, Eugene, Ore. Ask me a question

I received demeaning emails about my weight and social life in the past, but I just flipped them back to the senders with a reverse message. Not that I recommend this strategy, but I have no respect for people who bully. Eventually, I saw a counselor, got off MySpace, and found things that grabbed my interest. For me, that was writing. I started journaling my problems and entered writing contests. Get your sister to a counselor. Explore what might interest her. Be there whenever she needs you.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

First, block the website on your computers. Second, since you mom won’t do it, alert the principal and police as to who is saying what and how bad it is hurting your sister. Lastly, encourage your sister about her looks and stand up for her through this entire situation. Ask her and your friends to do the same.

Anjanette 17, Safford, Ariz. Ask me a question

Tell your sister repeatedly that she is beautiful. Take her out with your friends to keep her mind off things. Be her best friend until she gets through this.

Gregg 19, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

I have made fun of someone in person and that was bad. For cyberbullying, delete and block the people saying these things. If necessary, delete your account completely. Keep trying to wake up your mother. Parents are supposed to teach us how to navigate this world, including dealing with mean people.

Ashley 23, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

Your mom never had to deal with mean people spreading information in less than a second. She needs to understand that this IS different! The Internet makes people do crazy things they wouldn’t do in person because they can’t see how badly they are hurting another. This MUST be stopped. Tell your mom again and call the parents of the kids who are bullying.

Geoff 25, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

Check out www.itgetsbetterproject.com where gays tell about surviving bullying. It is also for kids accused falsely of being gay — or anyone who doesn’t fit high school’s herd mentality. Best video: http://tv.gawker.com/5663083/this-is-the-most-touching-it-gets-better-video-you-will-ever-see

DEAR SISTER: You are smart and compassionate. Your sister’s comment is a definite warning sign of suicide. For a complete list of warning signs and what to do about them, see our column DEC 2, 2009. The panel’s advice is brilliant across the board. Without delay, block the sites, get her to a counselor, be her best friend, give the web accounts and suspects’ names to both the principal and the police. Until victims (or their supporters), point at their oppressors, bullying will continue unchallenged.

Please watch the “It Gets Better” videos with your sister. It really does get better after high school — and with support and relentless appeals to authority figures, it will get better even sooner.

Editor’s Note: My heart goes out to anyone being bullied. There is perhaps no worse pain. It may be surprising to some, but I also feel compassion for kids who bully. The seed for hating and mob mentality is in each of us. Many are lured into hate by the need to belong at any cost. Others by the need to “be someone” and have power. The Internet provides the vehicle for otherwise “normally” insecure, cowardly, and powerless kids (most everyone at one point or another in high school) to become unthinkably cruel as they project their self-hate onto others anonymously. Most teens who act out, whether it’s through bullying (or substance abuse, promiscuity, eating disorders, etc.) grow out of their phase. They look back as adults and cringe.

While bullies need help and I have compassion for them, I have zero tolerance for their actions. Robust and enlightened support systems need to be established on every campus (volunteer run if necessary), so victims can come forward safely, while those in charge root out, prosecute and rehabilitate bullies (without becoming bullies themselves).

To anyone involved in bullying, however small, get help. The behavior can be addicting. To anyone who cringes at their bullying actions of the past, this is a great time to tell your story so that others can see themselves and heal. You might consider posting a video on the “It Gets Better” Project at www.itgetsbetterproject.com. —Lauren

  1. By Cecilia, age , from Riverside, CA on 10/28/2010

    To anyone who is considering bullying someone, cyber or otherwise, I want to tell you that it is a terrible thing to do and you will actually hurt yourself more than the person you bully.  My sister and I had a stepsister who we bullied terribly and now I feel horrible about it.  She was a sweet girl a little younger than us and very self conscious and vulnerable.  We were angry about our parents breakup and her second marriage to someone we didn’t like and also resented having to share our room with our stepsister when she stayed with us, so we took our anger out on her and found it funny at the time.  We made things hell for her.  She was overweight and we were so mean that we cruelly teased her about her body when she was naked and went out of our way to be naked in front of her to show off our bodies which we thought were more attractive and because it made her very uncomfortable.  We constantly put her down and called her cruel names.  She kept telling us that she wanted to be our friend and we just laughed at her.  Despite our cruel treatment, not once did she tell on us even though she probably could have got us into big trouble. 

    I now feel horrible about how we treated her and would give anything to take it back.  Our mom and her dad are no longer married, so we no longer see her.  However, some day I want to get hold of her and tell her how sorry I am and ask her to forgive me, but I don’t know how to approach her, and if she refused to speak to me I wouldn’t blame her.  I can say from experience that you shouldn’t bully someone, not only for their sake, but for your own.

    Cecilia

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  2. By Susan, age , from Roseville, CA on 10/29/2010

    If she didn’t have a different name and come from a different city, I would have sworn that Cecilia was one of my former stepsisters as they bullied me in a nearly identical way.  They humiliated me about my body so bad that I was compelled to change in the bathroom.  There’s nothing more humiliating than being teased about how your body looks when sombody’s looking at you when you’re nude.  Then they humiliated me for being so stupid as to change in the bathroom since “we’re all girls and all the same.”  I couldn’t win.  Bullying, whether cyber or otherwise, is very hurtful and leaves long standing emotional scars.  I just hope mine go away some day.  I hope my stepsisters feel as bad as Cecilia does for what they did to me, but I doubt it as they seemed to see nothing wrong with what they were doing to me.  Like their stepsister, I was afraid to tell anybody because I was afraid that it would make a bad situation worse as I was going to have to continue sharing a room with them.  The one positive thing about it is that I will never, never, do it to anyone else no matter how much I may not like them.

    Susan

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  3. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Straight Talk for Teens on 10/29/2010

    Dear Cecilia and Susan,

    I want to express my gratitude for both your letters… writing down your pain is the beginning of healing. And by publicly acknowledging it, it gives others a chance to start their own healing process.

    Cecilia, I encourage you to find out how to contact your former stepsister and extend a true apology. To let her know that their was nothing at all wrong with her and everything wrong with you, not only is the truth, but by saying it to her (regardless of her outer reaction) will help heal these scars for both of you. Please let us know how that goes. It would make a powerful column.

    Susan, I admire you for finding the one positive thing about your terrible experience. That it stimulated your sense of compassion tells me that you are resourceful at core and will find a way to truly know that all your stepsisters fed you were falsehoods conjured by injured minds. You will find compassion and love for yourself, and eventually them, and thus will find peace. The world certainly needs more people who can see through falsehoods and extend love anyway. Working with a counselor or spiritual advisor will speed that process up if you are inclined. Please keep in touch with me as you go through your healing. It’s a powerful model for others and I would love to share it.

    Love to both of you. Thank you again for writing.
    Lauren

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  4. By J.C., age , from Auburn, CA on 10/30/2010

    Like some of the panel members point out, there are many things you can do to fight cyberbullying.  You can limit your MySpace page so that only trusted friends can post on it.  If you are getting hateful emails, you can cancel that address and get a new one that you only give to trusted friends.  My stepsister who I have to share a room with is being cyberbullied in this way, and is very depressed about it, but won’t do any of these things to fight it even though I keep pointing it out to her.  I actually think she likes it as it gives her reason to feel sorry for herself.  She has also hinted at suicide, but I don’t know what I can do about it when she won’t even try to protect herself.  She’s also had cruel comments made about her body.  She’s still comfortable undressing in front of me since I don’t put her down, but when I have friends over she demands that they leave the room when she undresses even though they’re girls and have never put her down.  It’s a real drag to have to live in the same room with somebody like this but I don’t want to get my own room again by her doing something to herself, but you can’t help somebody who won’t help herself. 

    J.C.

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