Since initially hearing the news, I have been praying about how to respond to the horrific story of Rutgers Freshman Tyler Clementi and his tragic suicide. Let me first of all offer prayers for the repose of Tyler and for his family and friends, who can know no greater loss than the death of a loved one.
As the mother of teenage sons, my first reaction to this story, and the one that has stuck with me since first hearing the news last Wednesday night, is a deep sense of incredible sadness. I immediately called my son Eric — a college freshman who is only a few months older than Tyler. We had a long conversation, and I’ve repeated many of the points of that chat with Adam, my sixteen year old. The two main points of these conversations were the following:
1. Your life is a precious gift from God. Nothing that you could ever say or do, no “mistake” you might make or situation you feel we could not comprehend could ever justify you taking your life. If you feel at any time that you may do harm to yourself, please immediately stop, say a prayer and then call us. If you feel you can’t speak about the problem with us, please talk with a priest, a friend, a teacher, your RA or anyone who might be able to help us help you. We would be utterly lost without you. Secondly, if you feel any of yours friends are teetering on the edge, may do themselves harm in any way, or are battling depression, please seek immediate help for them. You may think they will be “mad” at you, but you could be saving their lives.
2. Think before you do something you think is “funny”. Scripture admonishes regarding practical jokes: Like a crazed archer scattering firebrands and deadly arrows is the man who deceives his neighbor, and then says, “I was only joking” (Proverbs 26: 18-19). It’s likely that Tyler’s roommate thought he was being “funny” by broadcasting Tyler’s private life on the Internet but that joke was like a deadly arrow. The roommate — and the other friend involved — likely couldn’t have imagined that Tyler would commit suicide directly because of their incredibly horrible actions. But he did. Cyber bullying, whether it’s via text message, on Facebook, via webcam or just by plain old gossiping about someone is an unspeakable sin that needs to be avoided at all cost. It can, and has had, deadly results.
In addition, cyber bullying and all other kinds of bullying are not only sins but many times against the law. Two of Tyler’s classmates are now facing years in prison for causing his death. Waht a tragedy for their young lives.
I hope that all of us with children old enough to understand the basics of this tragedy will have frank, open and honest conversations with our children not only this week, but often enough that we begin to stem the tide of some of the insanity that is happening. And let me just put in my two cents also and say that not allowing technology in your home is — in my opinion as a geek — not a sufficient answer. At some point, our children will leave our homes and will need to be equipped with well-formed moral consciences that will guide their use of technology. If we simply vow to turn off these devices in our homes and don’t ever talk about them, when our kids go off to college and into the world and use these tools, they may be ill-equipped to make the right decisions.
Adam likely wondered last night why I had tears streaming down my face when I conversed with him about Tyler Clementi — I never knew Tyler, but I mourn for his loss, and for so many children who are being harmed across our country. I don’t have the answers that could have kept this situation from happening. I’m just one mom, trying her very best to guide her children. But I hope that if each of us, in our homes and parishes, begin beating the drum for moral, responsible, and humane use of technology, perhaps we can make a bit of a difference.
In the mean time, please join me in praying for Tyler and his family.