13-year-old Hope Witsell from Sundance Florida, forwarded a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked, and her life changed. Another young girl borrowed the boy’s phone, found the picture of Hope and forwarded it to other students. Knowing the power of social media, it didn’t take log for Hope’s picture to go viral.
As a result of the nude photo, Hope was bullied by her peers with insults such as “whore” and “slut.” Hope wrote in her journal. “Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore! And I can’t be a whore i’m too inexperienced. So secretly TONS of people hate me … ”
School authorities suspended Hope for the first week of eighth grade, when she returned to school, a counselor observed cuts on Hope’s legs and asked her to agree to tell an adult if she felt inclined to hurt herself. The next day, Hope committed suicide by hanging herself in her bedroom.
On Sept. 12, 2009 Hope wrote in her journal: “I’m done for sure now. I can feel it in my stomach. I’m going to try and strangle myself. I hope it works.”
1. Let your child know that no matter what happens, it’s not a reason to take their life. Technology has changed the way our children will view the world and unfortunately their mistakes can be shared with the world with the push of a button. It is imperative that they be assured that we are here for them, no matter what mistakes they make, no matter how horrible it seems.
2. It’s never OK to send nude and inappropriate pictures to someone else. Young people fall in love often and they fall hard. Often times children will do anything to be accepted, especially by a love interest. Share stories with your children about kids who lives have changed due to the decision they made to share inappropriate photos.
3. Do not share your personal cell phone with friends. Set boundaries and expectations as to who can use your child’s phone. In Hope’s case her picture was exposed by a young girl using another person’s phone. Children must understand that they cannot trust that someone else will make wise decisions as it relates to their property. This is all about being accountable.
4. Monitor. You do not have to be a techie to monitor your child’s online behavior. You may not see a nude picture, but you may see something that leads to open communication which could ultimately save your child’s life.