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Real Life

Cyber bullying: “My daughter was suicidal because of Snapchat bullying”

Behind the smiles - Perth mother Leigh Davey, 53, has felt the devastating effects cyber bullying can have on children. Here, she shares her story.

By As told to Lorna Gray
Any parent will understand the overwhelming need to protect their kids. As I sat in my daughter's hospital room with my husband Carl, 48, I felt like I'd failed mine.
Our little girl Eva, 12, had been taken in for examination after months of self-harming. A counsellor said Eva "had a plan to commit suicide" and alerted us straight away.
We spent five hours in the hospital, talking to various nurses, doctors and psychiatrists.
"All I want is to do is protect her and I can't protect her," Carl choked, echoing my feelings entirely.
I can't begin to describe what it's like to hear your child wants to end their life.
Sick, helpless, numb.
The reason? She was being viciously bullied on Snapchat.
We became aware Eva was being cyber bullied and bullied face-to-face around seven months prior to landing up in hospital.
She was always so bubbly and there was a drastic change in her behaviour – our happy girl was now moody and withdrawn.
Luckily, Eva was able to talk us so we knew this behavioural change was because she was getting a hard time from other kids in her school.
"They hate me," she told us, her voice breaking, along with my heart.
We went through the motions by telling Eva's school and they, in turn, followed standard procedure and spoke to the kids involved. But it only served to make things worse.
Then Eva began self-harming, and cuts appeared, snaking up her arms – I was distraught.
Eva confided in us the majority of the bullying was happening on the social network Snapchat, which I still don't fully understand, if I'm honest.
Messages can appear and disappear once you've opened them.
At first it was messages like "Who do you hate most at school?" with Eva's name being the answer but it became more sinister.
"Why don't you cut your wrists and finish the job?"
I was beside myself. I immediately researched what you should do.
Eva started seeing a counsellor about the bullying and self-harm and I encouraged as much open conversation with her as possible.
We had to hide anything sharp from her at home and at school and she was given a safety plan to follow.
I realise how fortunate I am my daughter felt able to confide in me – some parents are not so lucky. Their kids carry the shame of what's being said with them.
Eva's school did everything by the book but it's extremely frustrating they couldn't really do anything at all when it came to other children's actions.
Cyber bullying particularly is completely new territory for parents – we had none of this growing up. If you were being bullied at school, you'd keep away from the bullies as best you could. You can't hide anywhere online.
I made sure Eva wasn't on Snapchat anymore but it didn't stop the other kids using it and laughing at her.
One day, someone took a picture of her sitting in class with her legs slightly apart and posted the picture with an extremely crude comment about smelling like fish and the sea.
My girl was understandably distraught.
Eva kept up her counselling sessions which is how we discovered just how low she felt. During one session, she confided she had a suicide plan and the counsellor immediately notified us.
Well to say our worlds came crashing down is an understatement. We lived through the bullying with Eva and to hear this about your child is absolutely terrifying.
It was hard to try to stay strong for her, but we did.
Taking her to hospital and sitting in that room, we thought - "How on earth did we end up here?
When Carl and I took her home, something inside me changed.
I worked ferociously to keep Eva's spirits up. I'd be damned if bullies would get the better of us.
I was still scared for her but I felt ready to share the hell we'd been going through with my family and friends overseas.
We'd hardly spoken to anyone since the bullying started, withdrawing into our little family bubble.
I felt I owed it to our loved ones to let them know why I hadn't been in touch.
A few weeks later, I posted a picture I'd taken of Eva in hospital in case we needed it as evidence (it had got that bad!) on Facebook, with a short explanation of our hellish journey with cyber bullying.
Immediately, I got supportive comments from my friends and family. Then I logged off, thinking nothing more of it.
The next thing I knew Eva was telling me we had journalists at the door.
My post detailing Eva's bullying had gone viral.
Leigh's post on Facebook.
Some of the messages Eva received were simply beautiful. We couldn't believe people were commenting on it from all over the globe.
The response has been extremely overwhelming. At present, it has over 90,000 likes, 46,000 shares and 33,000 comments. Half a dozen people who've lost children through suicide contacted me offering support which chilled me to the core. I was so touched by their bravery.
I've had handwritten letters, more prayers than I can count – it's just been a complete outpouring of wonderful support.
With so much love on our side, Eva has made leaps and bounds.
We did consider moving schools but were basically told nowhere could be "guaranteed to be a safe space" and Eva's school knows about everything, which is a comfort.
She's also had friends who've stuck by her side throughout.
Eva started a karate class at Shobukan Martial Arts which has helped her beyond belief. They teach the kids about bullying in their Empowerment Program and she's really benefiting from it. She recently got her yellow belt.
Everything has started to go back to normal and I am so unbelievably proud of her.
Eva receiving her yellow belt at Shobukan Martial Arts. Source: supplied
There's not a day goes by where I don't think about the bullying and wonder if she's safe online - I'm only human!
And I felt sick to my stomach when I read the news reports about Dolly Everett, the 14-year-old from the Katherine region who took her own life after she was bullied.
The parallels to our situation were all too close and my heart has been breaking for her family ever since.
Post continues after video: Dolly's family heartbreakingly address the media after her funeral
Something has got to give here. It's kids hurting kids.
I'm not sure what the answer is - as I said, we're in new territory when it comes to cyber bullying.
But we owe it to our children to find the solution and must continue to teach them that saying hurtful things face-to-face or online is completely unacceptable.
When I first reached out to the authorities about the bullying, I was told I should be teaching Eva "resilience".
But she's got more resilience than anyone I know. I'm so proud of my daughter and I'm grateful each day she was able to talk to us.
If you or anyone you know is suffering, please contact Lifeline (lifeline.org.au) on 1311 14 or visit Headspace at (headspace.org.au). Visit Beyond Blue at (beyondblue.org.au) or call 1300 22 4636. You can also contact the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800.

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