You Don't Have to Be Bullied

Bullying has become a heavily debated topic, from the controversial and eye-opening documentary Bully and the punishments that school administrators have put in place (which vary from extreme to not enough at all) to the issue of just how much influence policy and lawmakers should have over the interactions teens participate in online. But in all the ruckus and the noise from the pundits and talking heads, it can be easy to forget the awful toll that this takes on children every single day. It can be easy to become numb to the reports of yet another teen taking their own life out of desperation and unimaginable pain. It starts to become easy to think that suicide as a result of bullying is just normal, just another challenge kids today need to brave.

But that’s not the case. No one needs to die out of desperation to escape bullying. That just isn’t a reality we should have to accept. And it’s an idea that many brave teens have been speaking out against, fighting to help others escape the pain that bullying can bring. Sinead Taylor was one of them, until she died at age fifteen, just a week ago.

Sinead had previously posted videos online to encourage teens suffering from bullying not to give up, and not to give in to self-destructive tendencies as a coping mechanism. She spoke about how constant bullying led her to self-harm, and her struggle to overcome that. Sinead told her viewers that “Self-harming doesn’t help. It just makes it worse. Committing suicide makes it worse. Doing anything to harm yourself is worse, and I have noticed that.” While encouraging other teens in June, when her video was posted, Sinead seemed optimistic about her future. Details about her death have not been released.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, almost twenty percent of teens have seriously considered killing themselves, with almost fifteen percent actually planning the act out, step by step. There are not exact numbers for how many of these teens were bullied, but reports indicate that it’s a huge problem, and only becoming bigger. LGBT (or questioning) teens are much more likely to commit suicide as a result of bullying.

As the movie Bully so chillingly documented, this isn’t just a problem among teens. It happens as early as elementary school. When I watched the film, it was very difficult for me to sit through. It brought me right back to my sixth grade year, when my best friend at the time sent out an email to all the other girls in our class that detailed their new plan to ice me out of their social circle because I was “weird” and didn’t dress like anyone else. She sent it to everyone in her address book, and that accidentally included me. After months of social torment, I told my mom I didn’t want to attend the twice-weekly homeschool co-op group anymore, and I left any sort of structured school environment for the next two years. I didn’t make new friends until I entered high school at fifteen. It left a lasting mark on how I thought about myself, and how I approached every relationship. Thinking about it now is still hard.

And that was just a few months. When I was twelve. This was before the real boom of social media. All I had to deal with was that one email, and the subsequent cold shoulders of all my former friends at school. I can’t imagine having to go through that if the kids who’d targeted me had Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr to use to their advantage. I can’t imagine the volume of that, or the toll it’d take on me, especially at such a young age.

I do know that there’s hope at the end of that mess, and that there are people who want to help anyone going through it. The Bully Project, sparked by the movie, has a list of resources for students and for parents, as does The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available for those in need, and the Trevor Project specifically helps teens who’ve been bullied for their sexuality. As despicable and damaging as bullying is, there is help, and there is hope. Sinead’s story is tragic and heart-breaking, but it doesn’t have to be the story of any other teen.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

  • Amy Meadows Berry

    This was a great article. So sad for Sinead and all others who find themselves in this situation.

  • Jessica Koch

    Not that I advocate bullying at all, but are we coddling our kids by waging war against it? Obviously some instances are severe and should be stopped, but I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t picked on or bullied in school, and personally it made me a better, stronger person. Specifically it provides the opportunity to learn empathy- if I know how awful it feels to be bullied, then I’m much less likely to bully someone else. The world is not friendly, and it seems we are intent on bringing up a generation that is so overprotected and self-important that the gentlest criticism will send them home from work crying. Yes, children can be vicious, but adults can be infinitely worse. It breaks my heart that some kids have resorted to suicide because of this, but I can only believe it wouldn’t be such an issue if we weren’t such a selfish generation; so absorbed in our own feelings we forget that the world doesn’t revolve around us.

  • Jenny Mullinder

    Thank you so much for this. All through secondary school (high school) I was bullied and had hardly any friends, and to this day it has left marks on me emotionally. Luckily I never went as far as harming myself physically, but the mental damage is still present in my life today, five years after leaving school. I have a very low sense of self worth a lot of the time, finding it hard to open up to new people or trust them. I constantly worry that my ‘friends’ are secretly annoyed at me and don’t like me, or don’t want to be around me. I find it so hard to be in a group of strangers, at parties I often end up sitting awkwardly in the corner if I don’t know many people, and I am sure I’ve missed out on opportunities through my social anxiety. People who know me often don’t realise, as I hide it behind a loud and ‘hyper’ facade, but in my head it can be horrible. I’m slowly working through it, but it’s taken me years to get to this stage and be able to proper acknowledge and try to combat it. Bullying can absolutely devastate young people, and leave their self confidence in pieces. Whilst I agree people need to develop strength and the ability to cope with criticism, this shouldn’t mean that it’s ok for bullies to pick on people. There is a HUGE difference between criticism and being mean, spiteful and hurtful. The same way that men should be taught not to rape more than women being told how not to get raped, kids should be taught not to bully, not how to avoid or cope with bullying. To anyone out there who is being bullied, please please speak out, tell an adult, if they don’t listen tell another adult, and keep telling until somebody takes notice. There is no such thing as ‘tattling’ nobody should feel like they can’t express their emotions and hurt. Don’t give up hope, and please know that others have, and are going through it too, try to find people to talk to who you feel comfortable with, and make dreams to aspire to reach for.

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