Rebecca Sedwick Polk County Sheriff's Office

Zeus warned Pandora not to open the beautiful box he gave her, but her curiosity won.  Pandora peeked into the box and unleashed pain, confusion and other evils into the world before she could close the lid again.

“Rebecca Ann Sedwick Bullied for Months Before Suicide” is the title of the first article I read about Rebecca, a 12 year-old girl from Tampa, Florida, who committed suicide this past week.  The few words were a warning to me not to read the article, that doing so would unleash nothing but confusion and pain.  But my curiosity won, and I read.

If Rebecca had been bullied “for months,” then her community failed her. Standard of care in bullying prevention and cessation is to make stopping bullying an explicit responsibility of everyone. Her peers that witnessed the bullying should have known to report it to responsible adults, and those adults should have known what to do with that information.

The fact that the bullying happened for months, and Rebecca’s open expressions of suicidal ideation went unchecked, indicates that Rebecca did not have a community and kids need communities.

Rebecca’s mother says that she blocked Rebecca’s access to Facebook when she learned about the early incidents of cyberbullying, but she was unaware that it continued.  Tragically, preventing cyberbullying is not about blocking this Web site or that app.  It is about being present to your child’s online activities.  It is about actually knowing what she is doing and the information she sharing.  Experts agree:  if you cannot monitor what your child is doing on a Web-enabled device, then your child should not have that device.  Being present in the life of one’s child is one of the primary responsibilities of a parent; and kids need parents.

Zeus did not put only evils in Pandora's box: he also placed hope.  For those of us who care about kids and things like bullying, cyberbullying and suicide, there is hope. Reliable measures of in-person bullying (which is, in fact, much more prevalent than cyberbullying) indicate that it is declining. Likewise, the consequences of bullying that we care about the most also are declining. For example, in the past 10 years the child suicide rate has declined almost 9%.

The public is more aware of bullying and cyberbullying than in the past, and this has led to better programs and a greater acceptance of everyone’s role in bullying prevention and cessation.

In case this new awareness has not reached you (I am looking at you, Tampa, Florida), here are some things you can do to turn your school and neighborhood into a community kids can rely on when it comes to bullying.

  1.  Initiate and publicize clear anti-bullying policies that treat bullying as serious misbehavior and makes intervening the responsibility of each member of the community.
  2. Set expectations for bullies, victims, witnesses and adults that specify exactly what to do when bullying or cyberbulling occurs, what the reporting and documentation procedures will be, what the consequences will be, and how follow-up will be handled.
  3. Foster a sense of inclusiveness and belonging, because kids with strong peer relationships and support from adults are less likely to bully or to be bullied.
  4. Create environments that celebrate the diverse abilities of all students, because finding success in an activity helps kids establish their value to a community, and kids who are valued by a community are not, as Rebecca was, invisible to it.


About Brad

brad snyderTrained in research methods and human development psychology, Brad has been called upon to inform projects for industry giants like Marvel Comics and Turner Broadcasting. He is best known for his work with children, adolescents and young adults, ranging from usability testing with hemophilic teenagers for Baxter Healthcare Corporation, to testing on-air promotions with 3rd and 4th graders for Cartoon Network, to conducting focus groups with youth inside juvenile prisons. The projects he has designed and managed have helped develop raw concepts into some of the industry’s most successful programs, campaigns, videogames and new technologies.

In 2004, Brad’s work collecting and analyzing data on and from incarcerated youth helped the U.S. Justice Department win the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. In 2008, the Phoenix Business Journal named Brad one of Phoenix’s forty top business leaders under forty years-old.

The Five Truths of Raising KidsBrad is the author of numerous articles and a regular speaker at conventions, corporate retreats, and community gatherings. Recently, the Annie E. Casey Foundation cited one of Brad’s works as “fascinating” in a 2009 report on the treatment of incarcerated youth and is using it as a basis for recommendations to the field of juvenile corrections. Brad’s latest book, The 5 Simple Truths of Raising Kids, is being described as an “urgent ‘must-read’” by experts.

In 1990 at the age of 19, Brad helped found HomeBase Youth Services, a shelter for homeless and runaway youth in Phoenix. In 1994, he ran one of the first AmeriCorps programs, a “Learn and Serve America” project, for United Neighborhood Houses in New York City. In 2005, Brad helped found MentorE Online Youth Services, an organization that uses technology to link at-risk youth with caring mentors. Brad currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of MentorE Online Youth Services and is a member of the Boards of Directors of HomeBase Youth Services and A New Leaf.

Brad rides with Sick Gazelle Cycling, plays ukulele with the rock super group “Spouse,” and is the father of Ella, about whom none of his research applies.

Brad holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University; an M.P.A. in Public Policy from New York University; and an Ed.M. in Human Development Psychology, with a specialization in Adolescent Risk and Prevention, from Harvard University.