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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Cyberbullying and Fear

It is probably true that every preteen, teen, and adult is capable of saying something mean and nasty, hurting someone's feelings, and kicking (non-literally) someone when they are down, and most 13 year-olds do not take their own lives when they are bullied, but it happens, and I hope that the name Megan Meier will always remind us to be careful about how we treat others. Like in all harassment, it does not matter what we meant by what we did, or said, it matters how the person takes it - and Megan took it all very seriously.

Megan was a 13-year old girl who wanted to be popular, wanted to experience love, wanted to have a MySpace page, and was loved by her family - all pretty normal, on the outside, but now she is a child who took her own life in response to what she perceived as overwhelming evidence that she was not worthy of living, and someone else called a joke. Her self-esteem and confidence were beaten down by bullying in two different schools, via the Internet, and finally by a hoax that had her believing in a new boyfriend, who then dumped her, insulted her, and emotionally abused her. I am voting that people did not know she was depressed and suffering from attention deficit disorder, both things that made her more vulnerable to the abuse.

Would it have mattered to the people who bullied her and made themselves feel better by insulting her? Would she have been more protected if she had not tried to belong in the popular crowd? Make-up, designer clothes, sitting at the popular table, were all things that mattered to Megan, and made her vulnerable to bullying about her weight and social status. I am very concerned that we seem to be raising a generation that not only has adopted the impossible beauty standards they see in the media, they are capable of judging and hurting others they perceive as having less value than themselves.

Cellphones, cameras, text messaging and social networking Web sites, as well as email all are tools kids can use to tease and bully one another. Schools are doing everything they can think of to stop it - including policies, requiring uniforms, assemblies, parent education, and monitoring the Internet, but bullying still happens. Kids are terrified that they will become a target of bullying, and are afraid to do things and say things, lest someone captures them looking like a fool.

How sad is that - that our value is set by someone outside of us, and by how we look on the outside, not what we believe in and who we are as human beings. Somehow, as adults, we have to make some changes, and help youth understand the damage that bullying does. The lives we save could be our own children's.

Photo credit: superhua
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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