Guilt. Sorrow. Mind-blowing pain. Loved ones often feel all of these emotions after they lose someone to suicide. In the years after, many of them are able to redefine their lives and even grow from the tragedy. They become people who want to help others avoid all of that pain.
When a misunderstanding becomes a motive for saying hurtful things, students can act upon it within seconds from behind the safety of their keypads and the veil of anonymity.
That is why cyberbullying is so hard to prevent.
And with new social media apps from Facebook to Snapchat making it easier for kids to engage with one another after school, bullies have more ways to say hurtful things.
The ease with which someone can post a comment online without experiencing the human aspect of the interaction has developed into an epidemic of unaccountability that plagues a generation.
“Words do hurt,” Steamboat Springs High School senior Emily Puffett said.
Puffett experienced cyberbullying her sophomore year when a misunderstanding between her and another student became the catalyst for abuse when the student’s friends banded together to send Puffett threatening messages via text and Facebook.
Within days, she felt isolated.
She described cyberbullying as an “easy attack.”
Statistics from i-Safe America, which surveyed students nationwide in fourth through eighth grades during the 2003-04 school year, showed more than half of students have had someone say mean things to them online.
A majority of those who were surveyed also admitted to bullying themselves.
“Education is going to be the key component in teaching kids and their parents how to prevent and respond to cyberbullying,” said Heather Savalox, leader of It Takes Courage, a nonprofit group that has students and health care professionals going into area schools to prevent bullying.
Savalox started the group after her 15-year-old niece committed suicide after being bullied.
Savalox said parents need to take a more active role in monitoring their kids’ online activities and set boundaries for appropriate use of technology.
Shelby DeWolfe, a counselor at Steamboat Springs High School, agreed and said parents should start having conversations, setting expectations and maintaining an open dialogue with their kids.
DeWolfe said she has witnessed cyberbullying among local teenagers, mainly through texting and Facebook, though it can occur anywhere on the Internet and on any interactive technological device.
While cyberbullying may stem from a variety of motives, ranging from revenge to entertainment and ego boosting, it usually produces the same results: leaving the victim feeling isolated, threatened and humiliated.
DeWolfe noted the kids involved often times switch roles as victims and bullies throughout their altercations, typically without realizing it.
At the high school, counselors work with students to develop conflict-resolution skills and a sense of accountability for their actions. They also work with staff to provide ongoing professional development in recognizing and dealing with bullying.
Madison Ruppel, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a fall intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Bullied to Death: Suicide of 15-year-old Kristina Arielle Calco