Lessons Amanda Todd Can Teach Us

The story of Amanda Todd has been haunting me lately.   If you aren’t familiar with it, it is the story of a young woman who had her whole life in front of her, but chose, instead to end it much too early.  And why?  Because she was bullied.  The bullying started with an adult taking sexual advantage of her over the internet, and then stalking her and spreading the photos he took of her over the internet.  But it didn’t end there.  The bullying continued, but it was other kids at school who tormented her.  She couldn’t get away from it, and it affected her physical and emotional health, and her self-esteem.  Despite numerous pleas for help to deal with the situation, it only got worse.  And, in the end, the only solution she could think of to end her pain was suicide.

Reading her story in the newspaper and online, brings back memories of when I was bullied in grade school.  I was overweight when I was young, and so got labelled “the fat kid”.  I was continually taunted and made fun of by the kids at school, including those who I thought were my friends.  Older boys loved to ambush me on the way home and make fun of me and knock my books to the ground.  Luckily it never got physical.  But I remember feeling isolated and alone, and oh so hurt.  Unfortunately, one of the ways I dealt with the pain was to excel in other areas.  I became an “A” student and worked hard to be top of my class.  This led to more ridicule (no one really wanted to be the “teachers pet”).  I’m 52 today and yet the memories are still quite vivid.  To this day I still have problems entering a public school.  The legacy of this verbal abuse, and yes it was abuse, was a poor body image and low self-esteem, which I have battled all my life.  I’m glad to say that I’ve managed to regain my confidence and I’m proud of who I am now, but that wasn’t always the case.  And not every child is so lucky.

I wonder what might have made the difference in Amanda Todd’s life so that she wouldn’t have made that fateful decision to show her breasts on the webcam.  Was it pride in her body and confidence in who she was as a person that led her to make this decision or was it a poor body image and low self-esteem that made her vulnerable to the flattery of her abuser?    I don’t know, but when I think of my experiences with bullying, I know that my self consciousness about my weight, and low self-esteem contributed to it.  It made me vulnerable to the taunts of others because, to me, they were just affirming what I already believed about myself.  Looking back, I know in my heart that if I was confronted with the same situation as Amanda, I probably would have made the same decision.  To be told by someone that I was beautiful would have been like a salve to my skewed view of myself.  I probably would have done something similar to have the praise continue.

How many youth today, particularly young girls, hold similar self-images?  How many of them hate their bodies, their minds, themselves because they are different or told they are “not enough”?  We as adults have a responsibility to help young people, regardless of age, to build positive images of themselves and to feel confident in what makes them unique and in what they have to offer the world.  We often forget how much of an influence our words and actions have on young people.  We forget they are listening to what we say and watching what we do…and that they remember.  Articles that I have read on bullying say that bullies are repeating the aggressive and violent behaviour that they see in videos, movies, and on TV, but they are also learning this behaviour from the adults that are in their lives.  And their victims often pick up messages that can adversely affect their self-esteem in the same way.  We have a great influence on these young people…we can’t forget this.  So, we have to ask ourselves, what do we want these adolescents to learn?  What type of adults do we want them to grow up to be?  Do we want them to be like us, or better?  Let’s teach them and model for them the adults we want them to be – adults who know, and truly believe, they deserve and are worthy of being treated with dignity, respect and love, and treat others the same way.  Adults who have zero tolerance for bullying because it goes against everything they believe in.  Adults who will do something about it.

My heart goes out to Amanda’s family and friends.  My heart also goes out to all of those other young people across Canada who are in similar situations, who are currently the victims of bullying.  I wish them courage and strength so that they can weather the storm.  And I wish them the support of family and friends who will reinforce to them, on a continuous basis, that the opinions of the bullies are not who they are.  Instead, may they instill in them the belief that they are awesome human beings with so much to share with the world – so many talents and treasures that will touch many lives in the years to come.  Life is precious.  Let’s not waste it.