Sunday, October 14, 2012

With the media abuzz about Amanda Todd's recent suicide after years of bullying, in person and online, I've been reflecting a fair bit about how things have changed since I was her age - and how the changes have made bullying that much more insidious.

I was bullied persistently through grades 4 through 8, at two different schools and overnight camp. But unlike what today's youth deal with, the bullying could never follow me home.

The worst bullying I experienced happened from 1997 to 2002 - the internet was in its beginnings, and cellphones were an oddity rather than a social expectation. My peers were reluctant to bully me in our regular evening MSN conversations, because they knew that I'd then have a written record of what they said - and besides, many of us at the time shared computers with our parents, and bullying online would be more likely to be caught. In one case, when I told a school guidance counsellor about how the other girls were teasing me, one of the bullies printed off our MSN chat from the evening before in which she'd been perfectly decent to me while talking about a school project, and used it as supposed proof that she and her friends accepted me into their in-crowd.

There was no Facebook, or equivalent social networking site. When I finished middle school, I deleted the girls who tormented me from my MSN contacts list, and had no reason to ever communicate with them again. These days, a teen in the same situation would have these peers on Facebook, and often keeps peers who bully her, as having a large list of "friends" is a marker of social status. I could sever contact, and more or less create a new life for myself. That's not an option anymore.

Of course, that's not to say that bullying never extended to the internet - but for the most part, kids were more civil online than they would ever be in person. There was one situation that stands out to me. When I was in grade 9, and was having a rough time, a former friend whom I'd fallen out with suggested - perhaps jokingly, but I'll never know - that I just go ahead and kill myself. That was the closest I'd ever come to suicide, and if other friends hadn't been there (also online) to support me, I can't say with confidence that I'd be alive today.

If the internet back then had been what it is today, I don't know if I'd have survived those years. When I left school, I was free. I could go home and read, and be in my own world where nobody could hurt me. Now, that world would be interrupted by a mean text message or inappropriate photo posting. It surprises me not that Amanda Todd ended her life, but that so many youth are so alone, a sea of bullies surrounding them even in their own homes, and have somehow managed to cling on to hope and survive.

If anybody who is reading this is in a rough situation with bullies - it can get better, with time. It's hard to keep hoping when you hurt so much, but one day, you'll realize that your perseverance is worth it.

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