Photo: Grossman family
Twelve-year-old Mallory Grossman died last June by her own hand.
And yet, her death had so many more actual causes.
Bullying. The neglect of a school district to handle the problem. Parents of the bullies who declined to take their kids’ behavior seriously.
And chief among them all, the fact that multiple eleven and twelve-year-old children were in the possession of smartphones and social media accounts.
Yes, you read that right. I put it in bold and large font because I am steaming mad about it.
Mallory was from New Jersey, and the local online paper, NJ.com, had this to say about the events that spurred Mallory toward suicide, starting in fall 2016:
In early October, and over the course of the next nine months, several girls at Copeland Middle School began to bully Mallory, her mother Dianne Grossman says. They sent the sixth-grader “mean texts” and posts on Instagram and Snapchat. They gave her “dirty looks,” humiliated her and excluded her activities at school. The many messages sent to Mallory “were vile” and called her “a loser,” said that she had no friends and even suggested, “Why don’t you kill yourself,” according to the Grossmans’ attorney Bruce Nagel.
I don’t like backyard swimming pools. The hours of fun, in my opinion, aren’t worth the risk. If I don’t have a pool, no one can drown in it. If I don’t have a pool, my kid can’t fall in and drown, and neither can yours. They can’t HURT anyone by pushing them in either.
Similarly, if my kid doesn’t have an Instagram, she can’t be bullied on Instagram. Or Snapchat, Facebook, or any of the bazillion apps kids use to rip each other to shreds every day because they aren’t mature enough to use them responsibly and because being able to deride someone over a smartphone is 10,000 times easier than saying it to someone’s face. You don’t have to work up the courage to call someone a loser in person, you can just do it on the ironically-named “social” media, hiding behind a screen. And BONUS!! All your friends can laugh, like, and comment from behind their screens, magnifying the target’s humiliation a hundred-fold.
Also: if my kid doesn’t have social media accounts, she can’t bully and torment other people via social media. She can’t drown or drown someone else in that pool.
Mallory’s parents are suing her school district. They say the district didn’t do enough to stop it, despite repeated meetings with and requests from her parents. Mallory’s mom says she talked to one of the bullies’ moms the DAY BEFORE Mallory took her own life. “I can confidently say I spoke to one of the parents the night before Mallory — before this. And I can tell you that the mother dismissed it, said it was just a big joke, and that I really shouldn’t worry about it,” Dianne Grossman told NBC News.
That parent didn’t take it seriously, but this is SERIOUS. But I think by suing the school district, the Grossmans are perhaps barking up the wrong tree (though let me FREELY admit I am in NO place to judge), only because the state of New Jersey already has pretty strict anti-bullying laws, which did nothing to help Mallory.
What would have helped is if parents hadn’t given all their kids smartphones and social media accounts at much too young an age. If I were the Grossman’s, I’d be launching a huge campaign to convince parents to hold off on that for as long as possible.
If your child needs a phone, get your child an old-school cell phone — “burner” phone if you will — with no camera and no internet. BAM! Protected from predators, porn, and social media bullying in one fell swoop. If they can get text messages on said phone, CHECK THEM EVERY DAY. If someone sends bullying texts, get a new burner phone with a new number. Ooh! Or better yet, tell your child the phone is for texting with parents and siblings or a few pre-approved friends only. Get a home phone, and only let them give out that number to new “friends.” It’s a LOT harder to work up the nerve to tell someone to kill themselves when you have to call the home phone and you don’t know who is gonna pick up. Just sayin’.
And yes, I know kids can get social media account on other devices. Have an iPad or tablet at home? Check it like a BOSS. Every night. It’s your job now. It could save your child’s life, or, if your child is the bully, another child’s life.
If you think I’m exaggerating the dangers, here’s another quote from the NJ.com article (my commentary will be in BOLD.)
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, the suicide rate rose from 0.9 to 2.1 per 100,000 middle schoolers from 2007 to 2014.”
Guess what else rose during those years? Smartphone and social media use among kids ages 10-14! That stuff barely existed in 2007. The first iPhone was released June 29. 2007.
“In addition, bullying has a “clear relationship” with suicidal ideation and behavior among children, according to a review of 31 studies conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
Bullying has been a thing for centuries, but online bullying or cyberbullying did not exist before the late 1990s and social media bullying did not exist until after 2007, because social media did not exist before then. And since then, the suicide rate among middle schoolers has more than doubled? NOT A COINCIDENCE.
Mallory Grossman was not the typical target of bullying that we all might think of. She was a talented gymnast, a blonde cheerleader, a smart kid who had several close friends and got good grades. She wasn’t a geek, an outcast, overweight, poor, a slow learner, smelly, or anything a child might have been teased for when I was a kid.
Mallory had it all. Including social media accounts and a vicious peer group with social media accounts.
Parents. 1) Teach your children EMPATHY AND KINDNESS. If they bully someone, punish them severely. 2) Don’t give your middle schoolers social media accounts. If these two things would have happened among the kids involved in this, Mallory would still be alive. Please, moms and dads, let’s do better for our own kids.