It’s been a few weeks now since the whole Amanda Todd controversy hit social media. I’ve kept pretty quiet about the whole thing, mostly because I have no idea where to even begin to express how I feel. But it’s important we don’t stay quiet in the wake of something like this.
Overwhelmingly, the support for Amanda Todd has been positive. A lot of people feeling remorse for a girl they didn’t know and people feeling the need for vengeance. But, as there always is on the internet, there has been a backlash with people questioning the actions of Amanda Todd, those leading up to her suicide and the suicide itself. Let me assure you, for someone to actually commit suicide, they are looking for more than attention. And regardless of the mistakes Amanda made, nothing anyone could ever do is worthy of a punishment of death before their time. Especially not sleeping with someone’s boyfriend (anyone watch Maury lately? It happens all the time).
Another, and, in my opinion, more important criticism is the one where everyone wonders why Amanda Todd is receiving all the media attention when teen suicide happens every single day. Undoubtedly, it’s because of the strong social media role, the access every single person has to Amanda’s story, straight from her mouth, and the missed opportunity all of us had to save her. Instead of dwelling on the unfairness of the attention Amanda Todd has received, I encourage everyone to be grateful that her story is being recognized at all, because at least someone’s is.
Whenever a story like this comes up, I am reminded of my own struggles with bullying and self deprecation. My story is not unique, but it is my own and so it has shaped who I am today and my decision to write this. Almost everyone will struggle with bullying in some way. Whether it is vicious rumours an ex-friend spreads in high school, or someone pushing you down after school every day, all of it has a way of making you feel less than, which is what bullying is at its core. My own struggle is deeply rooted in all my years in elementary school, coming to a boil in grade 6. I don’t know if the people who bullied me know how much it affected me, or even remember bullying me, and the same people might turn around if they ever see this and say that my skin was too thin or that it wasn’t as big a deal as I am making it out to be. But I know how I felt and I can assure you that all of my feelings here are genuine. It may be true that my skin was too thin then, but everyone’s is until something happens to toughen us up, and grade 6 was the year that that happened for me.
A lot of those memories have been repressed, but there’s a couple that remain strong. One is the feeling I had as I sat under the awning in the school yard and read a book by myself during recess because I had no one to play with and consequently being called weird for it. The other is one of the night before I had to go back to school after Christmas break, crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to go back. I remember that desperate feeling of the inevitable school morning approaching rapidly and the agony I felt at the thought of going back. No child ever deserves to feel that way.
After grade 6, the bullying stopped for the most part. I found friends miraculously and stayed under the radar throughout the rest of elementary school and high school. I was still regarded as weird to anyone who thought they actually meant something in high school, but I was able to survive and found my vise working at the local movie theatre. I still work there and in all honesty, I don’t know what I would have done without the people I met there who accepted me. It also gave me an excuse to go to as few high school parties as possible, since in all honesty the thought of going and being ridiculed for whatever reason was terrifying, even if it hadn’t happened in years. And I am thankful that whoever thought I was weird in high school didn’t tell me so, because at that volatile age, where others’ opinions literally mean everything to you, I don’t think I could have handled it.
A highlight of high school for me was in grade 11, when one of the boys who bullied me apologized for what he had done. In all honesty, I didn’t even think he remembered. The kindness and bravery of that act still affects me today, and it makes me think about the people who bullied Amanda Todd and how they are feeling right now. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that had Amanda survived, the people who inflicted terror upon her would one day grow up and apologize to her, given the opportunity. It’s something that I feel passionate about, and I want everyone who is being bullied currently to understand that as bad is it may seem right now, you are not in the wrong, they are and one day they will realize that.
At 19 years old, I am in school to be a teacher. I volunteer in classrooms of children, mostly young and I see adorable little children at 4 years old just starting out in school, still kind to one another, because they don’t know yet of the discrimination and hatred that can exist in their world. I look at them and wonder which ones of them will be bullied and which ones will do the bullying. And it makes me sad that their struggle is inevitable in the world we live in currently. Things won’t change on the small scale until they change on the large scale, and that’s the reason why I am writing this. Not because of attention that the little 12 year old girl in me craves, because she doesn’t crave it anymore, despite what anyone else might think. I am writing this because all we have in this world is our voice, and so I’m going to use mine this time. I don’t want my 4 year olds to have to know the suffering that I did it and I sure as hell don’t want them to know the suffering Amanda Todd, or any bullying victim who took their own life did. I believe that one day, stories like Amanda Todd’s can feel as distant as learning about the trenches in World War I. Because at the end of the day, that’s why Amanda’s story has caught on like wild fire. Because it’s still so relevant to people like me.
My biggest fear going into teaching is that I won’t recognize the bullying in my classrooms, or I won’t be able to stop it. I don’t know where to begin the war on bullying. It’s just important that we begin. I think maybe we should start by appreciating the influence Amanda Todd can have instead of tearing the attention down. We should try and find a way to tell those who are dealing with bullies that it’s not a forever thing, and that who you are in high school or elementary school is completely irrelevant to anyone else once you get the hell out of there. That suicide isn’t the answer, EVER, but for some strange reason we all seem to think we need to sensor everything that our children hear, when they eventually learn vulgarities and the grim realities of life and then use it against each other anyways. Let’s just figure it out. Share your stories. Let’s educate each other. Let’s truly become the civilized society we all think we are.
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