The heart-breaking, unneccessary deaths of Ciara Pugsley and Erin Gallagher shocked the nation recently, tugging at the heartstrings of parents and non-parents alike. A person taking their own life is about as disturbing as it gets, and the only way it can be even more upsetting is when it concerns a minor.
In their early to mid-teens, these two girls were just about to embark on the journey of discovery and change that adolescence can be. Tragically, circumstances intervened, and they won’t experience that change, nor will they make those discoveries.
Suicide is never the right choice. Never.
What makes these cases all the more poignant is that they made the decision to take the ultimate step armed only with their limited knowledge set, for the knowledge set of teenagers is far from complete.
Obviously, that is not to say that adults committing suicide can justify it because they have fuller knowledge sets; on the contrary, said adults are merely the unfortunate ones who grew up without being told that there there were ways and means around everything. The debate about adult suicide is a slightly different one, though, and no less serious, it should be noted. Still, adults and children have one thing in common: they are all children once. We would thus do well to focus on helping minors.
Ciara Pugsley and Erin Gallagher falsely believed there was no other way out. We can’t blame them for thinking this way. Society as a whole gave them their values and knowledge, and it is this same society that should shoulder the blame for their premature and needless deaths.
Common sense tells us they had other options. Confide in a parent, friend, anyone trusted; report to the authorities; ignore the bullies and block their messages; all of the above.
But did they know about these options?
We need to educate our children to ensure they know there are solutions to the problems they will face in the social world.
One of the things some people find hardest to do, however, is to ask for help. A perception exists that it makes you make look weak, that your vulnerability leaves you exposed. Perhaps, too, there is an element of shame, with some believing they have done something wrong or that they are deserving of their ill treatment.
A culture of asking for help needs to be created. For too long now, many of our young leave childhood with the belief that they must do it all on their own. They keep dark secrets and attempt to solve the most difficult of problems all on their own. They’ll text a friend to get help moving a heavy table, but when it comes to the important stuff – emotional problems, bullying, mental health issues – some of them remain silent.
And don’t forget: the ‘them’ referred to are the collective ‘us.’ We all come through the same system, and today’s adult problems are often the result of failures of the societal system of a different era. The direct line to change begins with the young, and we need to equip them with the knowledge to instigate that change.
Bullying is a disgusting practice carried out by the cowardly dregs of our society. Unfortunately, some of them don’t fully understand the consequences of their behaviour. Too young, victims of bullying themselves…whatever the reason, they simply might not understand, but this is immaterial. The ignorant must be made aware; the already aware must be made reexamine their values; by tackling both, we will lessen the likelihood of devastating atrocities occurring again.
As is the right of any society, we are seeking vengeance. A quick fix is required for us to be able to move on and put this behind us. Shut down Ask.fm, the ired masses demand, sharing Facebook statuses and photos calling for same. The internet at large is at fault, argue the rest.
Solutions, though, are rarely straightforward affairs, especially when the problem concerned is as universal as bullying is. Writing in Scientific American, Hogan Sherrow explains that, “when we see modern human behaviors that are universal in nature, it tells us that these behaviors have their origins deep in our evolutionary history.”
Bullying has been around for a very long time, maybe one hundred thousand years, a million…exactly how long, is hard to say, but it’s certainly been around for much long than the internet and Ask.fm. Twenty years is all we’ve had the web for, and only in the last ten has it really taken off.
Calling for the closure of Ask.fm is as absurd as suggesting we close schools because bullying takes place in them.
Closing it and other such sites will not help reduce teenage suicides. If anything,
it could worsen the problem, as underground sites, which will be much less controlled than the present crop, will pop up the very same day.
We must open the dialogue channels between all involved, encouraging open debate to take place in all spheres of society. In schools, we need to debunk the myth that bullying is to be suffered in silence and engender an ethos of protection of the vulnerable, and the same must be done in homes. Workplaces, too, mustn’t be forgotten, as for some it simply follows them from the school yard to the office. Sporting heroes, musicians, and all other role models must be called upon to share their experiences of being bullied.
Technology has created more opportunities for bullying. But this also means there are more opportunities for us to deal with it. In fact, this saturation of our environment with bullying could eventually result in it being stripped of its power, so acclimatised to it will we become.
That said, the internet’s anonymity needs to be addressed, although the main social networking sites have more or less seen to that for us. Hiding behind pseudonyms was fun for the first few decades of the internet’s existence, but, just as knocking on someone’s front door wearing a balaclava is frowned upon, so too is hiding behind an alias to abuse someone. Still, that’s not going to solve the problem; school yard bullies wreaked their havoc despite everyone knowing their identities.
We are dealing with bullying. Cyberbullying is a pointless subcategory, one which has distracted us from the core issue, one which we like to fall back on, since it enables us to shift the blame from ourselves to the tool of the age.
The problem is the same as it’s always been. As are the solutions.
I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Erin and Shannon Gallagher, and Ciara Pugsley.
*N.B. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed herein, or if you suspect someone you know has been, please take immediate action. Talk to a friend, family member, or trusted person; consult with a doctor or mental health worker; contact any of the organisations listed at the bottom of this article.
*N.B. In the period since this article was first written, Shannon Gallagher, sister to Erin Gallagher, also took her own life. This is not specifically addressed in the article, as the piece is more about society’s role in shaping the mindsets and behaviour of our young, but the situation surrounding Shannon’s shocking death is not all that far removed from that of her sister’s, and so it addressed by extension.
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