Although I have lived in New York City for 32 years, I have never been to Staten Island. It has been said, however, that this southernmost of New York’s five boroughs is also its most neighborly. Tragically, last month Staten Island took a giant step closer to becoming like the rest of the nation. On Dec. 27, a 15-year-old high school sophomore named Amanda Cummings walked onto the main boulevard in her neighborhood and, according to witnesses, threw herself into the path of an onrushing bus. She died from her injuries six days later. Police say that at the time of the accident, she was carrying a suicide note in her pocket. Amanda’s story is all too familiar: She had been bullied relentlessly at her school, mostly by other girls. She had suffered a failed romance that brought her into conflict with a female classmate. She had reportedly sunken into a fog of drugs and alcohol. And most sickeningly, even as she lay dying in the hospital, the bullying continued on her Facebook page. That this wrenchingly painful story is now considered a textbook example of today’s teen suicide scenarios speaks both to the depth of the crisis and our failed efforts to curb it. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, one child or teen in America commits suicide every five hours. Additionally, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 attempts. I first read about Amanda’s death just minutes before my two girls barreled in the front door from school. Bridgette, 16, looked at me and asked why I had tears in my eyes. I showed her the story, and as she read it, she grew enraged. “It’s not going to get better!” she bellowed, paraphrasing the name of the popular national organization that wages war on bullying. “Not unless somebody does something. At this point, Lady Gaga is the only one who is making a difference.” I instantly understood what Bridgette meant. Unlike the It Gets Better and Trevor Projects — both landmark and admirable organizations — Lady Gaga has stealthily used her pop star prowess and signature otherness to get into the heads of youths. Even the title of her anti-bullying foundation, Born This Way (taken from the title of her hit song), sends a potent and uplifting message to kids, signifying that it’s OK to feel different. This is a problem without a solution. The more I thought about the story from Staten Island, the more I began to channel Bridgette’s fury. In recent months, I, like many Americans, have been absorbed in the presidential debates, listening carefully to see whether any of the candidates were addressing issues that spoke to my family, my kids, my life. And now I wonder: Who is leading the charge against the deadly epidemic of teen bullying — a scourge that continues to lurk in the playgrounds and hallways of all of our kids’ lives? Who is speaking out on the issue with the same urgency we routinely give to teen pregnancy, or childhood obesity, or even standardized testing? Last fall, I participated in an online campaign against bullying that was launched by my friend Marlo Thomas on her Huffington Post blog. At one point, Marlo and I conducted a telephone interview with a New Yorker named Kevin Jacobsen, who had lost his 14-year-old son, Kameron, to a bullying-related suicide. Marlo asked most of the questions as I listened in — like any father would — aching. “Bullying is not the same old issue it used to be,” Kevin cautioned. “With social networking and computers and cellphones, it’s become an around-the-clock problem. It’s now a health issue.” Not long before the interview, Kevin had created an anti-bullying website in memory of his son. He called it Kindness Above Malice and vowed to devote the rest of his life to ensuring that no parent experiences the same crushing loss he and his wife had suffered. Then came this month’s shocking email: On Jan. 7, as the one-year anniversary of Kameron’s death approached, Kevin took his own life. He has now joined his son. And Amanda. And far, far too many children in this country.
How has Amanda’s loss affected you? What will you remember most about Amanda?
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Tell us about Amanda. Did she like music (MTV), sports, or other hobbies? Was she into school clubs or bands? Were you on the softball, volleyball, or soccer team with her? I want teenagers to realize that Amanda was just a normal, average teenager. These tragedies can happen to anyone.
For more information on helping teens and young adults cope with tragedy visit:http://www.hospicenet.org/html/teenager.html
I truly believe in the cause of educating teens and parents about the repercussions of drug and alcohol use/abuse, coping with tragedies, making positive choices, teen suicide, bullying and many other issues that impact young lives today. I am a teacher and advocate for teens and parents. I strongly believe that what I do makes a difference. If you would like to help me by making a donation to the website, you may do so by clicking the donate link below.