12 Year old Filipina American Gabrielle Molina committed suicide last month, citing cyberbullying in her suicide note. She joins Audrie Potts and other teens and adolescents around the world for whom cyberbullying was a factor in their deaths. One doesn’t hear about Filipino American suicides that often (one report claims that they have a lower suicide rate), but this one hit home because another young Filipino American, the brother of one of my sons’ classmates, also recently killed himself. News of Gabrielle’s death made it across the Pacific with this report and video from the Philippine’s GMA News. What can parents do to prevent these deaths?
The psychiatrist in the GMA article and video makes some good points. She says that just because a child is getting good grades doesn’t mean that the child has no major problems. Parents are usually the last ones to know. She suggests asking kids questions about life and school, like “how was school?” I agree with the general approach, but not that specific question. In my experience, if you ask that of an adolescent or teenager, you will usually get a monosyllabic response like “fine.” Better questions are ones that require more than a yes or no answer, like “what do you really hate about school?” and its opposite, “what do you really like about school?”
The psychiatrist also adds that the Internet makes things tougher. While bullying happened before the Internet and outside of it (like with Danny Chen), I have to agree with her. It gets harder and harder to track your kids and their interactions with others, especially as more of them are moving away from sharing on FaceBook to options like Instagram, where they can control who they share with better, or to sites like ask.fm which was reportedly a source of torment for Gabrielle. That last site can be really disturbing if you see what your kid says there – I have had to talk to Number Two Son about some of his answers. The Internet can magnify the meanness that often comes with 7th grade girls – my experience with coaching 7th grade girls was that at that age, they could be really vicious to each other.
What to do? It’s a tough problem. I was lucky with the Daughter who would tell me her problems, often whether or not I wanted to hear them. Number One and Number Two Son’s situations are more tricky, as they share some issues but not others. When one of them got bullied at school, The Wife and I only heard about it from the parent of one of his classmates. I would have to say one good thing for parents to do is to maintain personal networks, especially with parents of your children’s peers, so that you can possibly hear about events like this. I was happy that the school responded quickly to resolve the problem and did so even before I had to bring things up. Gabrielle’s father charges that her school did not respond quickly.
As sad as Gabrielle’s death has been, I hope it can bring awareness, prevention, and intervention with cyberbullying and suicide. One positive sign is that her classmates staged a rally against bullying. A memorial FaceBook page for Gabrielle has been set up here.