A young girl in Massachusetts, US, was recently pronounced guilty of involuntary manslaughter for abetting the suicide of her boyfriend 3 years ago. Michelle Carter was 17 years old when she encouraged her depressed boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to follow through with his plans to commit suicide.
Over the course of several text messages, she asked him when he was planning to commit suicide, she wondered why it was taking so long, she proposed several methods of actually performing the act, she bullied him when he seemed to lose his nerve, she provided encouragement and "support," she egged him on when his resolve flapped and in a ghastly finale, she instructed him to get back into the car (fast filling with deadly Carbon Monoxide) when with a last-minute survival instinct, Roy got out and almost aborted his mission. Unfortunately, Carter's messages reached their mark and Roy - in a state of suspended free will - dutifully obliged and kept his promise, shutting himself back in the fume-filled car, dying of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
"It's not a big deal," she is reported to have messaged him earlier.
While legal opinion reduces this to a crime of speech and not technology, it is essential that children understand the implication of the words they utter - over phone or online.
There are several cases now where vulnerable teens are driven to suicide by individuals and groups, who are themselves sometimes distressed and depressed, needing serious help. Parents and educators must sensitize children to the power of the written word. Of course, more often than not, the juvenile perpetrators of this sort of crime know exactly what impact their words will have on the victim. However, they probably do not understand that their action can be construed as a crime and not "just words" nor can they hide behind the "right to free speech."
With more and more school kids having access to smartphones and the social world of children getting more and more complex, one thing is for sure: the job of a parent is getting tougher. But we will rise to the challenge, won't we?