Tragic events happen everyday to good people all over the World. A few weeks ago I watched the heartbreaking interview with Lucy Alexander on ‘This Morning’ on ITV whose son Felix sadly took his own life after years of being bullied and teased because he was not allowed to play a violent video game Call of Duty. The World has changed so much and so quickly since my teenage school years. I genuinely feel grateful that I grew up without social media. It can bring people together and yet can cause irrevocable damage. My school years were thankfully good and although I have experienced some bullying in my earlier years I would go to school not in fear. Bullying then I felt was left at the school gates. Now of course it can follow young people day and night due to phones and other electronic devices. I watched this interview while young Jay sat next to me playing with his toy train set. That pure innocence will one day be gone he will be aware of the awful things that go on and will I be able to protect him. I watched the interview with a heavy heart and can’t help but worry about what my son will face as he enters his school years. I know I am not alone in thinking this. This mother has lost her son in awful circumstances and it’s shattered their lives while the bullies go on with theirs. I admire her for the courage she shows in raising awareness.
Young people see lots of things online but are too young to have the maturity to deal with events. I think I was 32 when I started using Facebook and my teenage years were about going to school, hanging out with friends sometimes heading into town going shopping , cinema and basically having a laugh. I was 18 when I first bought my own mobile brick like Nokia phone capable of holding some text messages which you had to keep deleting to make room for more and two games I think.
As a vlogger I have see vile comments made by online trolls, it’s sad to think there are people who do this not really thinking about the consequenes of their words. There is that saying sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me… but the reality is that words can kill. If you are a parent I urge you to read this open letter. I also think schools should be showing this interview to pupils.
Here is Lucy Alexander’s letter to bullies, parents and schools in full:
On April 27 2016 our beautiful 17-year-old son took his own life. He decided to do this because he could not see any way to be happy. His confidence and self esteem had been eroded over a long period of time by the bullying behaviour he experienced in secondary education. It began with unkindness and social isolation and over the years with the advent of social media it became cruel and overwhelming. People who had never even met Felix were abusing him over social media and he found that he was unable to make and keep friends as it was difficult to befriend the most “hated” boy in the school.
His schoolwork suffered and he found school a daily struggle. He changed schools for 6th form, something he would not contemplate before, as even though he was miserable he was also terrified of the unknown and was sure that because he felt he was so worthless, another school would make no difference. He did make friends at his new school and the teaching staff found him to be bright, kind and caring. He was however so badly damaged by the abuse, isolation and unkindness he had experienced that he was unable to see just how many people truly cared for him.
I write this letter not for sympathy, but because there are so many more children like Felix who are struggling and we need to wake up to the cruel world we are living in. I am appealing to children to be kind ALWAYS and never stand by and leave bullying unreported. Be that one person prepared to stand up to unkindness. You will never regret being a good friend. I have been told that “everyone says things they don’t mean on social media”.
Unkindness is dismissed as “banter” and because they cannot see the effect of their words they do not believe there is one.
A quote I saw on Facebook recently resonated with me and I think is worth thinking about before posting anything on social media. Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Our children need to understand that actions have consequences and that people are wounded, sometimes fatally by these so called “keyboard warriors”. Not all children participate in online abuse, but they may be guilty of enabling others to do it. They do this by not reporting it, by not supporting or befriending the child being abused, which just validates the bully’s behaviour. I appeal to teachers to look out for signs that children are struggling. Poor grades or poor behaviour may signal a child crying out for help. Listen to parents who may report problems and monitor their social interactions. Are they sitting alone at break time or lunchtime? Are they particularly quiet or are they perhaps too loud? I do not expect teachers to be psychologists but they have a unique overview of children’s lives and they are able to recognise a difficulty early and help signpost towards help.
Education is a vital part of change. Children need to be shown from a very early age the necessity of kindness to each other. Incorporate these valuable lessons into the PSHE programme early in a child’s school life.
They all have smart phones at a very young age and it is vital that they are guided on how to use them responsibly and kindly. Finally I appeal to parents. Please take an interest in what your children do online. Find out what social media platforms they are using and be sure that their use is appropriate and kind. We don’t like to think that OUR children could be responsible for being cruel to another child, but I have been shocked by the “nice” kids who were responsible in part for Felix’s anguish. Even if they only say something horrible once, that will not be the only person who will have said something that week. Group chats can be a particular problem and they can disintegrate into hate fests very easily.
It is too simplistic to say “Why don’t you just block them? You don’t have to read it!” This is the way young people communicate now and many are actually are losing the ability to communicate effectively face to face. On several occasions we removed all form of social media from Felix as it was causing so much distress, but that just isolated him further and he felt that it was a punishment and not a protection. Look at your children’s Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Googlechat and Facebook. Help them understand that if they are writing or posting something that they would not want you to read then they should not be doing it. Help them self-edit before they post. What are they watching online in their bedrooms? Children are witnessing a warped form of reality as violence and pornography are being “normalised” by their ease of access. We have a collective responsibility to prevent other young lives being lost to unkindness and bullying.
You may see that I have repeatedly used one word in this letter and I make no apology for this.
The word is kindness. I said this at our son’s funeral. Please be kind always, for you never know what is in someone’s heart or mind.
Our lives have been irrevocably damaged by the loss of our wonderful son; please don’t let it happen to any other family.
Family charity BullyingUK has given advice on how children and young people can help if they see someone being bullied.
- Tell a teacher
- Go with the person being bullied and back up what they say to the teacher
- Tell the person being bullied that you will help them to tell their parents
- Tell your parents what has happening and ask them to have a quiet word with your head of year
- Agree with your friends that you will all make it clear to the person doing the bullying that you do not like what they are doing
- Keep a diary of what you see going on so that you can give a teacher a reliable account of what has been happening
Thanks for reading