As I sit here and write this article, my heart aches and the tears flow. How does a beautiful young 14 year old girl get to the point where she sees no other way out, no escape from relentless bullying and commit suicide? That I cannot answer and tragically no one will ever really know. The hardest thing to comprehend is that Dolly was not the first and the reality is, she won’t be the last.
As a mum of a 14 year old daughter and 12 year old son, I have seen the bullying, not just online but in many other forms. As a teacher, I have seen the bullying. As a friend, I have seen the bullying. For those of you that have read my many articles on this type of thing and have had discussions with me, you know how passionate I am and you know I am all about getting parents to parent and actually know what their kids are doing, full stop! The reality is, so many parents don’t know what their kids are doing online, what they are saying, how many Instagram accounts they have, what Snap Chat can do with disappearing conversations and images. It is far too easy for kids to access and download apps including Facebook when there are limited, if any, age restrictions on them. Anyone can download them and set up an account. The education about social media starts with the parents and the kids realising they are leaving a digital footprint which can open up a ‘Pandora’s Box’. In the future when our kids want to apply for jobs or are having background checks on them and seeing if their involvement in any type of online bullying has occurred, the damage is done.
Dolly’s death is now a police investigation. In Victoria, we have Brodie’s Law which is a legislation that was introduced in June 2011 to protect people from serious bullying including stalking, online, at school and in the workplace. This was a result of Brodie Panlock who also committed suicide due to relentless bullying in the workplace. Under this legislation, young people over the age of 10, can be charged. This is where as a parent, you need to know what your child is doing, saying or what is being done or said to them. I have experienced first hand reactions from parents when they have been shown what their child has written on social media about others and it is not a nice place to be sitting. Shock, disgust, anger and embarrassment are just a few emotions that come to mind. How are those parents of the bullies that harassed Dolly going to feel when the police knock on their door and start asking some hard questions and showing them what their child has done to contribute to Dolly’s death? If you as a parent are allowing your 10 year old child to be on social media, right or wrong, you must be accountable to some degree of what they are posting. A child of that age, even 12 years old, does not have the social or emotional intelligence or skills to deal with social media and all of the accountability it comes with. Parents can no longer hide behind the argument of, I don’t know how to use it or what it is? Get online and learn how to use it because like it or not, this is the way the world is heading. You need to empower yourself and know what to do. Ask friends, other family members, teachers, whoever you know that uses social media apps to show you how they work and what they do. Make accounts yourself and play around if need be and also have some rules in place. Remember, you are the parent and no doubt paid for the phone and paying the monthly bill! The phone is a privilege not a right, remind your kids of that when they say you can’t look at my account. First and for most, you need their passwords.
I have also heard a lot of people say that kids should get off social media, they don’t need it. Is it the social media forum that is at fault or the person posting? When I was at school, kids, including myself were bullied, but it was done by writing notes on bits of paper that could be passed around the classroom. Same thing except that bit of paper could be screwed up or ripped up into tiny pieces and put in the bin. Now, it’s out there….forever thanks to the digital footprint. You may delete a post or think it has disappeared, but it can always be retrieved. The other aspect is, there is no escape from online bullying. It is still there when you leave school or the workplace, it is relentless and obviously beats you down to the point where in Dolly’s case, she thought there was no other option. Her only escape was suicide. This is about education and most importantly respect. I agree that kids shouldn’t be accessing these social media apps until at least the age of 15 but this is not the case.
Education is key and being an educator, schools play a role in this to a point. I have organised and run various workshops and information evenings over my two decades of teaching. Who generally turns up you may ask? The parents that are already involved in their child’s education, the parents who want to know what is going on. Often the parents that need to be there, aren’t. If you don’t have an accountable parent, how do you raise an accountable child? Simple, you don’t. I would love to see Brodie’s Law taught in all primary schools from Grade 5 and workshops for parents on Brodie’s Law so they have an understanding of the enormity of bullying and the accountability we have as a society.
I would encourage you to read this article with your kids, talk to them and if you haven’t already set up boundaries, do so. Ask them who they would talk to if they were being bullied. It may not be you, and that’s ok. Your child may not want to burden you with their problem or they may be scared they will get in trouble. The most important thing is they have a support network just like we do as adults and you may even go as far as leaving out some phone numbers on the fridge for support like Kids Helpline.
Know what your kids are doing because no other person or family deserves to go through what Dolly went through. These bullies also have to live with this for the rest of their lives and sadly, so does Dolly’s family, without her. Remember as Dolly said, “Speak, even if your voice shakes.”