BRADENTON - Savannah Bosch knows how tough being a teenager can be. She's 16, and the Braden River High School student knows that some of her peers have it much worse.
"It's crazy to think that young people feel the need to end their lives because of a few people being mean," she says. That concern hit home with the death of a 12-year-old girl in Lakeland. Rebecca Sedwick's mother says that online bullying led Rebecca to kill herself. "She was only 12," Bosch says. "There was so much left out there for her."
Bosch spends summers in North Dakota, and knew a girl who committed suicide to escape bullying. It inspired her to start and anti-bullying club at her school. "It is an issue that is in every community in the United States," she says.
Bullying among people has probably existed as long as humans themselves. Internet chat sites and social media have made it possible to harass, insult and bully from the convenience of a keyboard, and often with anonymity. "When you're face-to-face with somebody there's still some thought being put in it," says Sunita Lodwig, Ph.D. a professor of information techonology at USF Sarasota Manatee. "Here you write down whatever you want and hit send."
Sedwick's sister told the Lakeland Ledger that Rebecca had endured cyber-bullying for a year-and-a-half. Her family last saw her Morning morning as she left for school, but she never showed up for class. Officials searching found her body at a former Cemex cement site near the girl's home Tuesday.
Her family had known bullies had targeted her, but thought it had ended when Rebecca changed schools. It had not. "There should be an ongoing dialogue with the child," Lodwig says. Parents should know what they children do online. Be friends with them on Facebook. Even demanding to have passwords to their social media sites does not go too far in protecting their kids, she says.
Bullies might deserve the blame, but often people see what happens and do nothing to stop it. "We target the bystanders," Bosch says of her club. "We tell them, 'stand up for those who are bullied because it's really hard for them to stand up for themselves."
Sometimes you can combat bullying with kindness, even if you don't know the victim. Bosch says she learned of a classmate being bullied. Rather than say something to someone she did not know, she took a bottle and filled it with notes expressing kind thoughts and slipped it into the victim's locker anonymously. "It just gives that person a self-esteem boost," Bosch says. "You need to stand up, because if you don't, it could be the end of someone's life."