Have you ever heard of Jamey Rodemeyer? Prior to last week, the answer for many of us was likely a resounding no. Jamey was a 14-year-old boy who lived near Buffalo, NY. He killed himself on Monday, September 19, 2011 in a large part, his parents and many close to him believe, because of the relentless cyberbullying he endured due to his sexuality.
Jamey’s story, in many ways, parallels that of so many other LGBT teens in America today, but it also stands out because of the attitude he showed to the rest of the world. Blogging about his struggles with middle school bullies as well asposting a video on YouTube for the It Gets Better Project, Jamey appeared to be dealing with this struggles. He had open conversations with his parents and administrators at his school about his issues. He had a support system in place, yet still turned to the unthinkable.
Why? What is it about Jamey’s story that made it take that tragic turn? What can concerned parents and teachers do to prevent this from happening yet again? How can we see if a child who is happy and coping with adversity on the outside is really dying on the inside?
Bullying from All Sides
Despite the tragedy of Jamey’s story, the reality of bullying for LGBT teens plays out every single day in the halls of our school buildings and, more importantly, through the waves of the internet. Bullying in the 21st century consumes more of a child’s life than it ever could in generations past because of the 24/7 nature of online chatter. As adults, we may sometimes forget the fact that cyberbullyingallows abuse to take place from all sides and in all environments, not just the school.
On the flip side, however, support systems are stronger for these exact same reasons. Projects like It Gets Better originate in cyberspace as a means to reach out and inject sanity into the echoes of hate that breed online. But that doesn’t make It Gets Better and organizations like it immune to those same dangerous ideas.
Since his death, the comment feed on Jamey’s YouTube video page has ranged from heartfelt sadness for his family to disgusting cries of hatred from total strangers. Even in death, people feel obligated or entitled to insult the memory of this little boy who, in the understandable innocence of a questioning young teen from Upstate New York, only wanted to tell others to feel the way he wishes he did himself. How noble, how truly and genuinely noble.
At a Loss for Words
And that is where the problem begins and ends: the internet. As a blogger, I understand the amazing advantages that the online world offers to me. I embrace modern technology and its use professionally and personally every single day. As an online educator, I spend a large chunk of my week teaching students about the dangers of internet research. We discuss reliability, bias, and the need for critical thinking online. I teach adults though, not teens. As a parent, this is what really worries me.
At a time when we all need to question how to prevent tragedies such as Jamey’s from happening again, the attention needs to turn to the Web and its use. Parents need to monitor their children’s social networks and have open discussions with them about what is and is not acceptable to say or to be told. Educators need to inject responsible internet use and accountability (even in an anonymous environment) into their curriculum and lexicon.
Cyberbullying prevention starts with communication. This is especially true in the case of LGBT teens who may feel isolated even from their own families and friends due to their “differences.” They may go online seeking acceptance and just find more hate. So we have to talk, hard as it may be. We have to talk even at moments like this when we are at a loss for words.