Every other month or so a story about a child bullied until he or she commits suicide rises into our national consciousness.
This month it’s Rebecca Sedwick from Lakeland, Fla.
Before that it was Gabrielle Molina of Queens. And before that it Asher Brown.
All suicides are tragic and complicated. And teen suicides are particularly devastating because as adults we recognize all that lost potential.
Yet, in perpetuating these stories, which are often little more than emotional linkbait, journalists are complicit in a gross oversimplification of a complicated phenomenon. In short, we’re getting the facts wrong.
The common narrative goes like this: Mean kids, usually the most popular and powerful, single out and relentlessly bully a socially weaker classmate in a systemic and calculated way, which then drives the victim into a darkness where he or she sees no alternative other than committing suicide.
And yet experts – those who study suicide, teen behavior and the dynamics of cyber interactions of teens – all say that the facts are rarely that simple. And by repeating this inaccurate story over and over, journalists are harming the public’s ability to understand the dynamics of both bullying and suicide.