Nurture your Compassion

Amanda Todd’s suicide probably got more media attention than any other teen suicide. Chances are, you saw her YouTube video in which she uses a series of written notes to describe the harassment she suffered for years before taking her own life.

What could be more shocking than a young girl being driven to suicide after making one terrible mistake?

How about a public backlash in which people from all over the world branded her a “slut” and applauded her decision to take her own life?

Her Story

In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few months, here is Amanda’s story, as she tells it: at the age of 12 or 13 she was video chatting online in a public chat room. Some guy used flattery to convince her to flash her chest. She did, and he recorded it. He used that topless image of her for years to terrorize her online, making sure everyone around her saw it or knew about it, even as she moved from school to school and city to city.

No matter where she went, she was picked on or cut out by other kids because of that image. Finally, a boy showed her some compassion. Alone and miserable, she fell into his arms, believing his lies about how he cared for her. They “hooked up.” Problem is, that boy had a girlfriend. The next week, that very same boy, his girlfriend, and a group of followers attacked her outsider her school.

Desperately alone again, she finally succeeded after many failed attempts to take her own life.

What do you think?

Are you pro-Amanda or pro-tormentors? If you think Amanda was a “slut” who got what she deserves, consider this. Every single 12-year-old makes stupid mistakes and the only difference between Amanda and you or anyone else was that she was unlucky enough to make her big mistake in front of a psychopath with a camera.

Yes,  Amanda hooked up with a boy who had a girlfriend, but people who are desperate and alone, who have been desperate and alone for a long time, will do almost anything for love.

This is human nature.

You may not believe it, but under similar circumstances you may well do the same thing. This boy lied to her, and she was vulnerable enough to believe him. That just means she’s human.

If you can’t understand all this, if you really think you’re better than Amanda Todd, so much better, in fact, that you deserve to stand in judgment of her, you might want to ask yourself if maybe you have lost your soul, your compassion, and your way. Your lack of empathy may be society’s fault — we live in a harsh world — but it is very much your problem, and the responsibility for finding your compassion rests squarely on your shoulders.

Lessons Learned

There are lessons for all of us from Amanda’s story.

Anything you say or do online can come back to haunt you, even years later. As Amanda herself wrote, “I can never get that picture back.” People you meet online may not be what they seem. Some people will say or promise anything for a hook up. Harassment is harassment, whether it occurs online or in person. Don’t hesitate to get your parents, school, and even the police involved, even if you’re embarrassed or afraid of getting in trouble. But the larger lesson here is one of compassion.

Accept that people make mistakes.

Don’t be the first to throw stones or point your finger. Don’t torture someone because they did one silly, self-destructive thing. If others are doing the torturing, be the voice that stands out. Call out the bullies. Always remember that next time, the person suffering from one terrible mistake may be you.

For Parents

If there is one lesson for parents from Amanda Todd’s story it is that you need to watch your children’s online activity. Even the smartest young teens do silly things. In our Internet culture, the chances that that one silly thing will get recorded and passed on have increased dramatically.

Businesses and colleges have started hiring staff to comb the Internet for activity by their applicants.

Talk to your kids about the dangers of the Internet.

Make it clear that if they do get into trouble online that they can come to you, and you will offer help without judgment. Whatever they may have done, if they are now being harassed by it, they’ve brought on their own punishment. You don’t need to add to it.

Keeping your kids safe from the dangers of the Internet means making it very difficult to go online unsupervised. You can help ensure that in your home with the following rules:

  1.  Kids’ phones remain in their parents’ room overnight, with the understanding that parents may poke around to see what they’ve been up to
  2.  No computers with Internet access in the kids’ bedrooms, ever
  3.  Internet access is only available in a public part of the home
  4.  When kids are online, an empty chair must be next to them at all times, with the understanding that a parent may sit down at any time and ask to be shown what they’re doing
  5.  No deleting browsing histories, texts, or other online activity
  6.  Parents must have the username and password of all online accounts

Parents must be “friended” on Facebook and all other social networks (but be aware that privacy settings allow kids to block content from individual people; that’s why you also need to be able to get into their account directly)

List of Resources
Kidshealth site on Internet safety
FBI site on Internet safety for kids
The University of Oklahoma Department of Public Safety’s Police Notebook
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s site on Internet safety
Web Wise Kids