The Sunday Times Christmas Appeal aims to stop the online bullying driving our children to despair
Looking back, it still seems an ordinary Sunday. Jane MacBryde took her son James, then 17, out to practise his driving, leaving her 15-year-old daughter Natasha to do her homework.
While they were out, Natasha texted, asking if Jane would bring home some sweets. After tea on that chilly February afternoon, Natasha went to her room. An hour or so later, she crept out of the house, walked to a nearby railway track and threw herself in front of a train.
“She must have been in some sort of trance, and I keep thinking that if only I’d heard her come down the stairs, if I’d shouted, she might have got out of it,” said MacBryde, speaking about her daughter’s death for the first time.
“As a parent, I think, ‘Was it my fault for giving her a mobile? Was it my fault for giving her a laptop?’ You look back at every little thing and wish something had changed.”
A couple of weeks earlier, Natasha had come home from school in tears. Classmates had posted horrible comments about her on a website called Formspring: the barbs* were anonymous, so she did not know who to blame or trust.
The rapid growth of social networking has brought with it a parallel rise in bullying online. Bullied children no longer simply fear being beaten up or having their belongings trashed in school: bullying follows them home, with vicious, mocking comments arriving by text message or over the net.
In Natasha’s case, the bullying continued even after her death. A memorial page on Facebook was attacked by Sean Duffy, a so-called internet “troll” — a person who posts offensive or inflammatory* material online — who created mock-up* pictures bearing the words: “I caught the train to heaven lol [laugh out loud].”
The charity Beatbullying believes bullying is a factor in 44% of child suicides. Research suggests more than one in four youngsters has been cyberbullied and one in three of those says the problem is persistent*.
“That adds up to a lot of misery,” said Emma-Jane Cross, founder and head of Beatbullying. “We know there is an epidemic of self-harm and depression in teenagers. For some of them, bullying is a problem they can’t get past.”
We hope you will support Beatbullying by donating to The Sunday Times Christmas Appeal. The charity provides vital help to children in distress through its online counselling service, CyberMentors, which allows a child who is being bullied to be counselled by a volunteer their own age and with its schools education programme.
Pretty, clever and musical, Natasha was not an obvious target for bullies. “She had never had any bother going to school, she was always happy,” said her mother. “She was aspiring* to be a vet, maybe, or a paediatrician*.”
Her problems blew up suddenly, and for no apparent reason. “I think some of what happened was jealousy*,” said MacBryde. “She had stunning* big blue eyes and naturally white blonde hair. All her friends were lovely but some weren’t as attractive, some struggled with work, some didn’t have as much as she did materially and I can’t help feeling some of this was jealousy.”
By the time she committed suicide — on the eve of St Valentine’s Day this year — the problems seemed to have subsided. “She’d had a chat with one of her teachers, who looked at all the comments, and they made a plan, part of which was ‘Don’t go on Formspring’. I said: ‘It’s a ridiculous website, you don’t need to do it. Talk to people on Facebook — they are your friends; you know who they are’, and for a few nights she stayed off her laptop.” But records show that after she went to her room at 6.45pm she looked at her Formspring page. There she found a message calling her a “f****** slut* hiding under all your make-up” and telling her to “start acting nice to people or you will lose everyone. Mark my words”.
Natasha replied: “Who are you?” Then she started looking through suicide websites.
MacBryde would now like to see websites that allow anonymous contributions* banned. She is backed by a Sunday Times/YouGov poll this weekend that found 53% of people do not believe anonymous comments should be allowed on websites and 61% would support regulation of social networking sites. A total of 71% believe bullying online should be a criminal offence.
“The whole idea is wrong,” said MacBryde. “Why should people be anonymous if not to say something nasty? There should at least be tight regulation, with users perhaps having to be 18 or disclose their IP address so they know they can easily be traced or closed down.” If not, there will be many more grieving* parents.
C. 840 words
Source: The Sunday Times of Dec. 4, 2011
* barbs - verbale Spitzen
* inflammatory - aufhetzerisch
* mock-up - Pseudo-, vorgetäuscht
* persistent - anhaltend
* to aspire - anstreben
* paediatrician - Kinderäerztin
* jealousy - Eifersucht
* stunning - umwerfend, fantastisch
* slut - Schlampe
* contributions - Beiträge
* to grieve - trauern
1. Mrs Jane MacBryde assumes that jealousy could have been one of the motives of Natasha's classmates for bullying her. Why does she think so and would you agree with her opinion?
2. Mrs MacBryde also blames herself for placing Natasha into that desperate situation. Do you agree with what she puts forward?
3. Could Natasha's parents have prevented their daughter from committing suicide?
4. Choose the last two questions included in the graphics and answer them substantiating your opinion.