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Cyber-bullying claims another life

Posted: October 6, 2011 10:54 a.m.
Updated: October 7, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Five months ago, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer sat down in his bedroom and recorded an anti-bullying message on his computer’s webcam.

The Buffalo, N.Y., teen had been bullied relentlessly for months -- if not years -- about his sexuality.

“I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!" someone posted anonymously on his Formspring account last year.

And yet, Jamey still encouraged others to stay strong and hopeful in the face of bullying.

“Love yourself and you’re set … I promise you, it will get better,” Jamey said into his webcam.

But the bullies kept coming, taunting him mercilessly on social networking sites and at school.

Jamey began seeing a social worker and therapist. His friends reported the cyber-bullying to guidance counselors at their school. Jamey’s parents thought he was doing well. 

But his online blogs and status updates said otherwise.

“I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens … what do I have to do so people will listen to me?” Jamey wrote online Sept. 9.

Two weeks later, the 14-year-old committed suicide at his parents’ suburban home.

I couldn’t think of anything much worse than hearing some teenagers are so callous that they didn’t think twice about taunting a 14-year-old so badly it would make him take his own life.

That is, until I heard that Jamey was still being bullied even after his death.

At his high school’s homecoming dance, which took place not long after Jamey died, some students reportedly chanted “You’re better off dead” and “We’re glad you’re dead” when a Lady Gaga song was played in Jamey’s honor. 

What is truly heart wrenching is knowing that Jamey’s tragic death is by no means an isolated incident; more than a dozen teens have taken their lives during the past two years as a result of vicious cyber-bullying.

Fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide in March 2010 after being tormented through Facebook, text messages and in school.

Sixteen-year-old Christian Taylor hanged himself in his bedroom in June 2010 after complaining about being bullied.

Eighteen-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge last October after being bullied on social networking sites and blogs.

And yet, there are still a considerate number of adults who say “kids will be kids” or “bullying is a rite of passage.”

I take comfort in the fact that anti-bullying laws and policies are being enforced around the country. With any luck, cyber-bullying will be treated as a crime.

Even locally, the South Carolina School Boards Association recommended that school boards add language addressing off-campus cyber-bullying to their bullying policies -- a change the Kershaw County School District school board recently approved.

But we can’t only rely on the schools to be vigilant of cyber-bullying. It’s also up to the rest of us to make sure teens know bullying will not be tolerated.

For some adults, that could mean watching their own tone when posting things on social networking sites, or simply making sure they set a proper example for anyone who may have access to what they post online.

For others -- parents, in particular -- it’s important to monitor what their kids put online. Simply knowing what kids are putting online -- regardless of whether it’s posting vicious insults or writing cries for help -- and then acting accordingly may save a life.

It’s past time we taught teens they must use good judgment and common sense when using any kind of technology.

Two weeks before he committed suicide, Jamey asked what he would have to do to get our attention.

Did he get our attention?

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