The New Year had barely started when the headlines were heard across the globe, another teen died of bullycide.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, online harassment is affecting people around the world. Cyberbullying is not only child’s play, from the highest office in the land to parents, teachers, celebrities and every walk of life — no escapes the risk of becoming a victim of digital abuse. Internet shaming doesn’t discriminate.
It never gets easier to read yet it's becoming more frequent. Young people taking their life, youth pleading with their peers to stop the taunting and parents becoming anti-bullying advocates when their child comes home after being victimized.
We can't allow these headlines to go in vain, all of them are opportunities to open dialogue with not only your children, but with your schools and communities.
Teens helping teens
Recently AT&T announced the winners of their annual AT&T Film Awards, a competition for young, aspiring filmmakers. A high school student from Bayonne, New Jersey, David Mansour, submitted the winning entry in the youth category, highlighting a topic that is both pervasive and alarming in today’s social media-centric world: cyberbullying.
His short film, “Leave a Message,” showcases how one positive message can make a life-saving impact. It reminds us that we all have choices in life. Not only the victim that is being attacked, but the bystanders.
David’s video is so empowering, it’s not only relateable to young people, like online harassment, this message resonates with everyone of all walks of life that has the ability to reach-out to someone that is struggling. You may be the reason they survive tomorrow.
”Leave a Message” is leaving an imprint on people of all ages. I asked David Mansour the following questions to find out more about his thoughts behind his strong message.
Q. Being an upstander is exactly what many people need when they are struggling with online hate. How would you encourage a teenager to be that person to "Leave a Message?"
David: “You leave your message when you finally let go of others’ opinions of you. You may feel bad for someone, but you have to act on that. Feeling bad for someone isn’t enough – a message isn’t a message until it is delivered.”
Q. Many teens are reluctant to get involved. What can we do to change this bystander culture?
David: “Teenagers are too obsessed with their social status and will not do anything that would potentially taint it. Logically speaking, their “social status” won’t get them a job in ten years. On the other hand, simply speaking up for someone being bullied may save their life – a much more permanent act.”
Q. When you were experiencing online bullying, did you get your parents involved? If so, were they able to help? If not, why?
David: “I never spoke to my parents about anything I was going through, and I deeply regret it. When you think of your parents, you need to know that they also have wisdom of the time that you are going through and that they have also went through the same thing, just in a different form.”
Q. Digital resilience is helping teens deal with cyberbullying. With your experiences of online hate, do you feel you've become more resilient and it's equipped you to better be able to help others?
David: “I feel much more resilient simply because now I found an outlet to help others – film. It always starts with one person. When one person with a voice finally decides to speak up, it sends a ripple through the water that many are drowning in: the internet. Stop using platforms such as Twitter and Instagram as weapons, but rather as tools to help encourage the happiness of others and the overall betterment of our communities.”
Q. Life is about choices, in 2017 we sadly coined the word bullycide. Let's hope your message spreads globally -- so more people that are considering their choices realize someone is there for them. How do you see cyberbullying changing in the next year or so? Do you think youth are finally being more responsible and respectful to each other?
David: “Cyberbullying is becoming more and more discouraged as time goes on, partially due to the pop culture figures that are also spreading the messages of love and positivity. The youth are very open to suggestions from their idols, so we need these idols to set good examples as well.”
Q. What inspired you to make your film?
David: “My film was made in honor of a young man that committed suicide in Long Island. He was not supported when he was bullied and it ultimately led to the loss of his life. His school was reluctant to help and dismissed several incidents. His death was not in vain. I aim to spread the importance of anti-bullying.”
Thank you to David for his time and support in curbing online hate.
What will you do the next time you witness someone being cyberbullied?
Order Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion in an Age of Cruelty and Trolling (Sourcebooks, October 2017) book for more insights on preventing and surviving digital shaming and online hate.