What We Learn from the Bullying of Rebecca Sedwick

bullying - Rebecca Sedwick - Dads Round Table

(COURTESY: THE LAKELAND LEDGER)

The case of Rebecca Sedwick hit me hard. She is the teenager from Lakeland, Florida who police believe was cyber-bullied by classmates to the point of her taking her own life last week.

Her story resonates with me personally and should serve as a cautionary tale for all parents. More than 20% of teens say they have experienced cyber-bullying, according to the Cyber-bullying Research Center. Rebecca couldn’t escape her tormentors. They followed her online wherever she went even telling her “You should die,” according to media reports.

I identify with Rebecca because I was bullied as a kid. I can imagine Rebecca’s pain, her persistent feelings of worthlessness and her desperation to escape what must have seemed like the constant, unrelenting pressure and presence of people who hate you.

Imagining the pain her parents feel almost brings me to my knees. We spend years protecting our children from any and all ills, promising to safeguard them from difficulty and harm. But we can’t protect them from everything. Rebecca is proof of that. Her anguished story should convince every parent to start asking their children questions about bullying that they see or hear about it. It’s a perfect opportunity to start a conversation about abuse that can spiral out of control and leave victims feeling desperate.

Bullying is like being in a locked box — you feel like you’re suffocating and cannot escape. You’ll do anything to end the suffering, even suicide.

I was bullied because I was different. Like most boys, I played sports. And I was a decent athlete. But I also took dance lessons and that, according to my bullies, was my downfall. I remember being at soccer practice one day at the age of 12 and my teammates reaching into my gym bag to pull out my ballet slippers and tap shoes. When a crowd is standing around you, mocking you unceasingly and refusing to give you a moment’s peace, it is gut-wrenching. How do I get out of this? Will anyone stand up for me? How do I return to practice tomorrow? All those questions raced through my head.

I never told my parents. It was humiliating. I suffered in silence, cocooning myself with my friends, praying each day that the kids who bullied me at school or practice would find someone else on to focus on. I was able to tune out the bullies and focus on the things that I loved, continuing to play sports and performing in theater and dance. My family also surrounded me with a loving environment and loads of self-worth. Many of my hours were spent alone, reading, daydreaming and coming to terms with “me”. And I found that despite what the bullies said, I liked myself. That saved me.

I wish I had told my parents and I will work to make sure that my kids feel comfortable telling me anything — no matter how painful, embarrassing or minute. Maintaining open communication with our kids takes work but it’s necessary. We should talk to our kids repeatedly about being a victim, a bully or someone who witnesses it. We should snoop on their social media to see if bullying is going on and encourage them to discuss it with us or another trusted adult. As parents, we must ask questions, especially when we notice a change in our child’s behavior. They may resist us but this is where persistence pays off.

-The only way to prevent cyber bullying — and the despair that Rebecca felt – is to talk about it, face it and demand that it stop. We must do that. Because Rebecca Sedwick and other bullying victims deserve it.

The Cyber-bullying Research Center (cyber-bullying.us) has links and information that might be helpful in starting a conversation with your children about the topic.

(PHOTO COURTESY: THE LAKELAND LEDGER)

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Comments

  1. Tracy Georges says:

    I get it. I get it completely. And I’m so sorry you went through that. If you ever want to read from a girl’s perspective, here’s my story: http://crazyasnormal.com/2013/09/the-one-with-mean-moms-2/. I am beyond lucky that I did not end up like so many others have.

    • Happiest Daddy says:

      Thanks for sharing. I read your piece and could identify with your experience. It amazes me that parents allow their children to grow up mean-spirited while turning a blind eye to obvious malevolent behavior. Because of my experience, my bully-o-meter is always set on high and my kids will know where the line is drawn. There is a vicious cycle that we all have to take ownership of breaking.

  2. Well said.

    If the only thing we get right with parenting is being there providing a safe person to listen to our kids, we’ve got a giant win. Some things, bulllying being one of them, are too big for kids to handle on their own.

    • Happiest Daddy says:

      So true, Gina. Sometimes I think we have to stake out the big battles and spend extra effort winning them. Bullying fits in that category because so much of a child’s self-worth and self-esteem can be damaged and even destroyed by the careless, thoughtless words and actions of their peers.

  3. This is so tragic and cases like this are happening with alarming frequency. I hope your call to demand that cyber bullying stop inspires people to take action. Your post inspired me to have a conversation with my wife about making sure we keep the lines of communication open with our son. Thanks for that!

    • Happiest Daddy says:

      Thanks Justin. Your comment is so true and what worries me is the amount of cases that we don’t hear about — the children who choose to suffer in silence. That’s why it’s so important for adults to do what you’re doing and discuss it openly and often with your children.

  4. I hope that people will feel more comfortable talking about it. It is important that it is brought to an adult’s attention so that they can attempt to do somethign about it.
    I recently wrote about blogging from my perspective as a parent and teacher: http://larrydbernstein.com/you-have-my-word/

  5. Rebecca’s dad, Ken Sedwick, DOES not believe his daughter committed suicide. He runs the “Rebecca Sedwick support group” on Facebook. Please support this father and help him get the answers he needs! Thank you!

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