Today a memorial service is being held to celebrate the life of Dolly Everett. She was the bright-eyed, Akubra-wearing, 14-year-old girl from Katherine in the Northern Territory, who was being so severely tormented online that on Wednesday, January 3, she saw no solution other than to end her life.
The simple truth is that Amy “Dolly” Everett should be here to live out her life and grow old.
To read books and study for exams, to go to school dances and swimming carnivals, to fish for Black Bream in the river, to occasionally wag her university tutes, to jump on a plane to London, to walk the long, red dirt roads at home. To get married or not. To have children or not. To write poetry, to ride horses, to draw and paint and laugh.
Dolly Everett should be here and it is stupid and needless and infuriating and heartbreaking that she’s not.
Bullying has always been around. We know that. But smartphones and social media platforms have changed the playing field. They’ve turned the volume and the frequency up to an 11. It means that we are giving our kids no respite. Those devices and social media accounts we’ve been in a rush to hand over to our kids has meant that, in turn, our kids have no sanctuary.
The whispers and taunts and insults now follow you home — swirling around you at your lowest moments and whispering in your ear at 1am when you can’t help but log on and see what your tormentors are saying.
So what are we going to do about it, Australia?
Platitudes and hashtags aren’t going to cut it.
We have a complex problem here that needs addressing. It’s time to step up.
So let’s start.
1. Look at what your child is doing online.
How confident are you that your child is not engaging in bullying behaviour? You may be surprised. If your child has a smartphone or tablet and/or a social media account — do spot checks. I’m not talking about spying on your kids. Instead sit with them and take a look at the conversations they’re having and what they’re posting online.
Are they engaging in “pack mentality” bullying? Are they perhaps the target? Instagram is a favourite platform and there are tell-tale signs if your child has been hiding a second or third secret Insta account. That hidden account may be innocent and a place where your child can be more authentic online. Or it may be the place where they engage in cruel online behaviour.
Since the news of Dolly’s death made headlines, several mothers emailed me to let me know they had uncovered their daughters’ secret Instagram accounts and were horrified by the conversations being conducted.
2. Nearly every parent I meet thinks their child is different.
“They’re sensible. They know how to handle themselves online.” Make no mistake, tweens and teens have notoriously bad judgement and have yet to really build up their empathy muscle. Just because your child is mature doesn’t mean their classmates are the same. The quality of your experience online is often dictated by your friendship group.
Tweens and teens can’t always see and comprehend the consequences of their actions. They can trust the wrong people. Engage in the wrong conversations. Make terrible judgement calls. And they don’t always realise that one mean comment might be the very thing that pushes a vulnerable person over the edge. The key is to have clear boundaries in place. No devices in the bedroom at night.
Charge them in a central location in the house during the evening. If necessary turn the wifi off after 9pm. And let’s all stop using our phones as our alarm clocks. Put stricter limits in place on when and where devices can be used. Aim for a device-free morning or afternoon each weekend — embark on an activity like bike riding or rock climbing or cooking where it’s difficult to hold a phone in your hand at the same time. Most importantly, parents need to model a healthy relationship with their phones as well.
LISTEN: Bec Sparrow talks to Holly, Mia and Jessie on Mamamia Out Loud about the dangers of cyber bullying and what we can do to stop it....
3. Let’s actively teach our kids empathy.
Reading books allows you to step inside someone else’s life and walk in their shoes. Watch TV programs and movies with your son and daughter and discuss how characters feel and why. Point out to your kids what they have in common with other kids irrespective of race or religion, geography, advantage or ability.
As parents we need to be modelling empathy, compassion and kindness in our day to day lives. When we respect and acknowledge our children’s feelings, we teach them to respect the feelings of others.
4. Learn how to take your child’s emotional temperature.
Jono Nicholas from ReachOut.com (Australia’s largest online youth mental health service) taught me a great tip last year. Kids often find it hard to articulate what they’re feeling. So instead of, ‘Are you okay? How was school?’ Ask them to rate their day out of 10. It’s an easier way for your child to give you an instant snapshot of how they’re feeling.
Regular family dinners also mean you’re more likely to spot a sudden change in your child’s behaviour. Are they no longer talking about certain friends? Are they quiet and withdrawn?
5. Along with empathy lets work on building our children’s resilience.
You’ll find many valuable tips including how to nurture optimism, teach the art of ‘reframing’ and more regularly expose our kids to their support network. Head to Hey Sigmund for more practical advice.
6. Let’s take stock of the fact the suicide rate amongst young people is at a 10-year high.
According to ReachOut, the signs of suicide can include:
- Talk of death or suicide, even jokingly
- Expressions of hopelessness or being trapped
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Increased usage of alcohol or other drugs
- Expressions of rage or revenge
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Research into suicide methods on the internet
- The making of final arrangements, such as saying goodbye to friends and family and giving away possessions
- They have been depressed for a significant period of time but then seem to be ‘doing really well’.
If you think your child is at risk, it’s important to talk to them about suicide. You’ll find advice from ReachOut about having that conversation.
7. Remind them that nothing ruins your life for ever. Nothing.
While it’s easy to lecture our kids about the perils of their digital footprint — it’s far more important to remind them that NOTHING ruins your life forever. NOTHING. Life might suck right now or feel impossibly bleak but it won’t always be this way. Bad times aren’t permanent. If you have people who love you, you can overcome anything. If you are being bullied, take screen shots of the abuse. Report the abuse to the platform (eg Instagram). Then block and delete and walk away from the abusers and towards the people who have your back and who can help you find solutions to the situation.
To the Everett family —- I hope you can feel Australia’s arms holding you up. I am so deeply sorry for the loss of your beautiful girl.
And to Dolly Everett, you will not be forgotten. It’s time for all of us to look up from our screens and start seeing what’s going on right in front of us.
You want to stop kids being bullied? It starts with us. You and me.
Do it for Dolly. #stopbullyingnow
"Dolly" Amy Jayne Everett 1.5.2003 - 3.1.2018.
Dolly’s Dream has been set up to raise money for charities facilitating positive change in young people. To donate: Dolly's Dream Foundation BSB: 035313 ACC: 237623.
If you are struggling and feel alone, please call one of the following numbers:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.
If you are in immediate danger, call 000.