What We Can Learn From Amanda Todd

October 16, 2012
Sarah Jackson
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Students

Like many of you, we were saddened to hear the story of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old who committed suicide at her home in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, last week after being the victim of cyberbullying.

Like many of our readers, in addition to being educators, many of us here at Common Sense Media are also parents, and we wear both of these hats when we read her story, listen, and watch the moving video she posted just weeks before her death. Our hearts go out to those in Todd’s family and community.

In a video she posted on YouTube in September, Todd tells the story of being victimized by an adult online, and then harassed on Facebook by peers, beaten at school. She also talks about her self-mutilation and her past suicide attempt.

The video is heart-breaking (warning: some of the content is graphic). The public outcry in Canada has been swift and heartfelt. Officials are calling for the government to support a study that could end with the creation of a national anti-bullying strategy, and further efforts to protect minors online. A Facebook memorial set up in Todd’s honor drew more than 700,000 likes over the weekend.

If you’re looking for ways to talk with your students about what happened, we have several free resources in our Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum.

Our Cyberbylling Toolkit, for example, includes resources for talking with elementary, middle, and high school students about how to respond when they see digital harassment happening. It discusses what to do and say when witnessing everyday acts of cruelty, online and off. And all of our students need to learn how to behave ethically, responsibly and respectfully online.

Teens need to understand that “If you see someone has done something, don’t pass it along,” Rebecca Randall, the vice-president of educational programs here at Common Sense Media told Canada’s Global News this week.

“It’s that simple. Don’t start it. If something was sent to you privately, don’t forward it to anyone.”

John Palfrey, author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives,” has written that there’s nothing fundamentally different about bullying and harassment that occurs in digital spaces today, except that the public spaces in which young people interact today have expanded. Instead of just happening in school or the mall, “much of the social life of young people takes place in a converged space that links the online and the offline,” he said in a New York Times forum on cyberbullying. The ubiquity of these public spaces can in some cases, like Amanda’s, make cruelty more severe because something can go viral in a matter of seconds.

“We live in this cut and paste culture where things, the minute they go digital, they are out of your control. Not only are they searchable and you can easily find the information, they are also permanent,” Randall said.

Our goal at Common Sense Media is to teach young people to be informed digital citizens who think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in this world. Many of our curricular resources are designed to help adults talk through these sensitive but critical issues with students.

In “My Online Self,” a lesson for sixth through eighth graders, for example, students learn to understand that the Internet gives them the freedom to make choices about how they present themselves to others online. And “Overexposed: Sexting and Relationships” a lesson designed for Grades 9-12, helps teens understand risky self-disclosure and the possible consequences. And a lesson on cyberbullying teaches students to learn about the difference between being a passive bystander versus a brave upstander in cyberbullying situations. Students learn empathy and work together to generate multiple solutions for helping others when cyberbullying occurs.

The toolkit also includes helpful resources for parents. It emphasizes teaching empathy, helping students understand the line between funny and cruel, and showing students how to stop the behavior and involve adults. Watch our video “What You Need to Know About Cyberbulling” for more.

We’ll have more later this week on efforts going on in Canada to help teachers deal with cyberbullying and keep kids safe. In Ontario, police officers are partnering with educators to get our tools into the hands of more teachers and students there. 

More than 1,800 teachers from 1,450 schools in Canada have already registered through Common Sense Media. We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.