The Kyabram Free Press is running this special news feature in a bid to bring the insidious extent of cyberbullying to the attention of readers in general and parents in particular.
It is the tragic story of a Cobram teenager who took her own life after seeing no way out of her pain. All the experts we spoke to agreed it was a problem in every community and is much more widespread than most families realise.
DEB Langshaw is caressing the small wooden box that sits on the coffee table in her lounge room.
A look of utter desolation across her face as tears, still bitter, stream down her cheeks.
“This is all I have left of my baby girl and she matters, Amanda matters,” she said, every word being forced out, her voice catching, choking.
“I won’t let her death be brushed under the mat, like all the other kids who have taken their lives because of online bullying, I can’t and won’t fail her again,” she said.
Deb’s daughter Amanda Grennan took her life in 2017.
Alone in her bedroom.
Hounded by vicious, relentless, online bullying.
She was just 14 years old.
Her life had barely begun but in the end she must have felt even death was preferable to her living hell.
Three girls at her school had targeted Amanda after a broken relationship with a boy — and they taunted her, targeted her, mercilessly.
At 49kg they told her she was fat, a waste of space, and that they wished she was dead. This went on day and night for months.
Even the mother of one of the girls got involved and had been sending her abusive messages.
Amanda once told her friends, “I don’t drink enough water to cry this many tears”.
Yet through it all, Amanda hid the extent of her online torture from her mother because, Deb believes, she wouldn’t have wanted her to make a fuss.
“She knew I would stand up for her, she knew I would be around banging on their doors,’’ she said.
The night Amanda took her life, Deb had already taken her phone to give her a break.
“Amanda received a terrible message from one of the mothers but that message would have still gotten to Amanda on her school laptop.
“The kids get a laptop on the first day of year 7, how could I possibly stop her receiving messages? They can put controls in place to stop children accessing porn, surely they can develop some sort of technology to stop this happening?
“There is no break for our kids, it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Deb is adamant she is not after revenge but she said there had to be some sort of punishment.
“There has to be a consequence. It’s not bullying, it’s assault and abuse, stalking, and it is costing our children their lives,’’ she said.
“It is killing our children — it killed my child — and something needs to be put in place as a deterrent.
“I received a letter in early December from the coroner and it mentioned the three girls but said it was suicide from bullying. I requested they look into it further and I got another letter saying the same thing.
“Amanda isn’t a number, she is my daughter. I am still her mum and I will fight for her and honour her memory. This is all about her.
“Those girls took my little girl and I know it won’t bring her back, but what is going to stop them from doing it to someone else?’’
Deb is hoping by speaking out she might just be able to save other families from going through her hell.
Amanda, she said, was a beautiful and intelligent girl with a wicked sense of humour. Kind and caring and never gave Deb an ounce of trouble.
“I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter girl. She wouldn’t have been famous but she would have made a difference. We have lost our baby but the world has lost a good person and nothing can bring her back,’’ she said.
“She was the most perfect child and I used to say to her ‘at some point Amanda you have to be naughty’, but she never was. If I told her to be home at five, she would be home at 4.55. I can remember rousing her once because she left her breakfast dishes out and she was devastated — she never wanted to upset anyone.
“Amanda knew she was loved by us and even though her dad and I had separated we remained on good terms. My heart breaks for Scott, he hasn’t been able to go back to work, he is a wreck, we all are.
“Her brother Shaun never called her Amanda; from the moment she was born he always called her my little girl.
“People keep saying it will get better but it doesn’t, it’s just getting worse and worse. I miss her so much, I just want my little girl to come back home.”
Deb is also grappling with debilitating guilt but she is showing remarkable strength, sharing her devastating story.
“Amanda never gave me a reason not to trust her. She wasn’t secretive or a liar but how could I not know?
“I have checked everything a million times and I can’t find a note.
“I never got a final ‘I love you’, I always cleared all the messages on my phone and I have nothing, I just wish I had saved her messages.
“I just wish I had her.”
Cyberbullying is a growing threat
CYBERBULLYING is a serious issue affecting children and adolescents from primary school through to university.
During 2017 more than 3,000 people aged 5-25 contacted the national counselling service Kids Helpline and in a chilling statistic, 14 per cent were experiencing suicidal thoughts at the time (956 of these callers were cyberbullied).
Yourtown/Kids Helpline’s Tracy Adams said young people experiencing cyberbullying could experience anxiety and depression, feel ashamed, isolated, powerless, scared and humiliated, with the potential for devastating consequences.
“Of young people contacting us about cybersafety, 400 were from children aged between five and 12 with nine per cent of these very young children telling us they were experiencing suicidal thoughts,” Ms Adams said.
Ms Adams said while these statistics were alarming she was thankful children and young people were reaching out to Kids Helpline for help.
“Teaching and encouraging help-seeking is exceptionally important. Research has told us that only 40 per cent of children aged five to nine will tell their parent or carer they are experiencing cyberbullying and this drops off to only 25 per cent for young people 15 years and older.”
Early intervention via education is one of the keys to protecting children.
“As a community we need to teach children to not only seek help at a young age but also about how to stay safe online,’’ Ms Adams said.
Kids Helpline in partnership with Optus supports the community via a digital education program — Digital Thumbprint is available free to primary schools nationally and last year close to 12,000 children benefited from the program.
“Professional counsellors talk with students and their teachers in group class sessions via digital technology about issues such as digital media literacy, respectful relationships online, online safety and cyberbullying,” Ms Adams said.
A recent survey released by Kids Helpline indicated more than 50 per cent of young people surveyed about cyberbullying had been bullied but also had bullied others. Kids Helpline’s head of strategy and research John Dalgleish said the survey revealed the line between bully and bullied was blurred.
“Many of the young people engaging in cyberbullying said they did this in an attempt to seek justice for the abuses they had received. This suggests cyberbullying takes place because of breakdowns in peer relationships. It also highlights that education is exceptionally important to give our kids the skills to develop and maintain respectful peer relationships and learn legitimate pathways to achieve meaningful conflict resolution,” he said.
Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for children and young people aged 5-25. Freecall 1800551800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au
Young people can report any cyberbullying problems at www.esafety.gov.au