Amanda Todd was subjected to a series of escalating events beginning with cyber bullying, then escalating to verbal and physical threats, then ultimately a physical assault (Todd, 2012). As a result, the young woman developed symptoms of anxiety and depression, was alienated by and isolated from friends, and endured feelings of guilt and shame.
As anyone so young, Amanda lacked the coping skills to manage these issues on her own, but fear and shame kept her from reporting the some of the most severe of the incidents (Todd, 2012). Amanda moved from one school to another, and ultimately moved to a different state to live with her mother. Amanda resorted to drugs and alcohol, self-mutilating and had several suicide attempts all in her attempt to manage her situation. Amanda was being medically managed for depression and anxiety, attended counseling, and was attending a school specifically for students who had struggled socially or behaviorally in other settings (Ng, 2012). The bullying continued. On October 10, 2012, after at least two unsuccessful attempts to end her life, Amanda was found dead in her British Columbia home.
Was there anything that could have been done to improve Amanda’s situation? Research says yes. Studies on reducing bullying in schools and the introduction of prevention programs have demonstrated significant success (Frey, Hirschstein, Snell, Edstrom, Mackenzie, & Broderick, 2005).
In order for anti-bullying programs to work, it requires participation and commitment from children, parents and teachers. According to Frey et al. (2005) teachers and parents often feel they are intervening to protect children who are being bullied. The facts are, however, that teachers intervene in classroom bullying which occurs in their presence less than 20 percent of the time. With minimal intervention, children’s fear of reporting is worsened. If teachers will not intervene when it occurs, how can children believe they will intervene if they report the aggression? And who will prevent the retaliation? Bullying often creates isolation from peer support. Teachers’ unwillingness to intervene to stop bullying incidents further isolates the victim making them feel unable to be supported by adults as well (Frey et al.). The first step in addressing bullying in schools is learning to recognize it and respond to it effectively. According to Frey et al., there seems to be uncertainty for both children and adults about what, specifically, to do. Effective programs include a clear set of step-by-step response guidelines.
At the time of Amanda’s suicide and in the years of harassment and exploitation leading to it, cyber bullying was not a crime. Although too late for Amanda, her death sparked a national conversation about cyber bullying and led to Canada taking steps to pass legislation to criminalize such activity (Ng, 2012).
Furthermore, it forced people to recognize the potential dangers of unrestricted and unsupervised internet use by young people. Unknown to many, Amanda was being stalked and extorted by an unknown person who repeatedly tracked her down, and threatened and harassed her virtually (Ng, 2012; Todd, 2012). Prior to Amanda’s high profile case, the risks of the cyber world seemed largely unknown to average citizens. Although it was a price too high to have been paid, the loss of Amanda Todd opened many eyes to the horror of adolescent bullying, teenage depression and anxiety, and the presence of sexual predators on the internet, in our homes, and in our children’s lives.
I will not say there are steps Amanda’s parents, teachers, or the police could have taken which might have prevented Amanda’s suicide. To do so would be to suggest that they have some responsibility in her death. That is an unacceptable thing to suggest. The people who are responsible for her death are those who stalked her, tormented and tortured her, and exposed her to intolerable cruelty. Her parents, her teachers and the authorities did what was in their power to do. Pointing fingers and requiring responsibility must be applied only to those who are in fact responsible.
Like bullying in years past, some things have not changed. A single person is isolated, humiliated in front of others, and threatened. They are made to feel helpless and alone. They may be targeted for any number of reasons and even those who may have been sympathetic to their situation are so fearful of being the target they will allow others to suffer to avoid the risks (Frey et al., 2005). Some things have changed, though. The means for harassing others have expanded and the reach of a tormenter has grown exponentially. With the availability of cell phones and social media, there is no longer safety anywhere. Where once a victim may have been able to find some small reprieve in their own bedrooms, now their attackers can follow them even into that most private sanctuary. The phones, tablet, and laptops that are an essential part of social interaction and daily functioning hide predators and attackers just inside the screen.
Ongoing efforts to decrease bullying continue. The Steps to Respect program described by Frey et al. (2005) saw the potential for significant improvements. Several steps believed to be keys to the success of the program include educating educators on what bullying actually is, what it looks like in all its different forms, and how to respond to it. Administrators are creating systems which can track and adequately respond to complaints of bullying. By creating a system, fewer incidents slip by or seem isolated, and patterns of peer-abuse can be more easily identified. Victims and potential victims are empowered and are given steps and dialogue to use to manage bullying situations with even simple steps like rehearsed responses and scripts. Finally, the program recommends treatment and skills training for the perpetrators of bullying behavior such as emotional regulation and improved empathy (Frey et al.).
Frey, K., Hirschstein, M., Snell, J., Edstrom, L., MacKenzie, E., & Broderick, C. (2005). Reducing playground bullying and supporting beliefs: An experimental trial of the Steps to Respect program. Developmental Psychology, 41(3).
Ng, C. (2012). Bullied teen leaves behind chilling YouTube video. ABC News [online]. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/International/bullied-teen-amanda-todd-leaves-chilling-youtube-video/story?id=17463266
Todd, A. 2012, October 11). Amanda Todd’s story: Struggling, bullying, suicide [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej7afkypUsc