Teen speaking up about bullying in Airdrie
It’s been a nightmare six months for Airdrie’s Tara and Mackenzie Murphy.
Mackenzie, a 13-year-old former Muriel Clayton student who is now homeschooled, has been a victim of bullying for years.
That bullying culminated in a suicide attempt before Christmas and a month-long hospital stay for the young teen.
“I have been bullied since 2007,” said Mackenzie. “It was like a never-ending battle.”
The abuse, which started in her former northeast Calgary school, prompted Mackenzie’s mom, Tara Murphy, a single mom, to move to Airdrie about 18 months ago.
Hoping for a better reception for her teen, Murphy was devastated when, after a year, the cycle of bullying began again.
“All the things she loved to do, she simply stopped doing,” said Murphy of her daughter.
“She started running with people that I didn’t approve of, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t talk, spent hours on the computer, she became disrespectful at home.”
Mackenzie also began self harming - cutting and bruising herself to draw attention away from her emotional pain.
Although never physically abused, Mackenzie was bullied both online and in person.
She was called names and sent anonymous hate messages online suggesting she should kill herself.
“Everything I posted on Facebook or Instagram I would get beaten down,” she said, adding she began staying home from school.
Those absentee days turned into weeks until on Dec. 3, Mackenzie attempted to take her own life.
Murphy said she discovered her daughter in the nick of time thanks to a text she received from one of Mackenzie’s classmates while she was in the shower.
“My daughter was that close,” said Murphy. “It was a matter of a few minutes that I caught my daughter.”
The suicide attempt landed Mackenzie in the Alberta Children’s Hospital for nearly a month.
“She was admitted right away, rushed into the hospital just after I found her,” said Murphy. “She was under observation for two weeks, then to the mental health unit for two weeks.”
It was a difficult time for the single mom.
“You give them complete control of your child,” she said.
“Your child is in a locked ward with children you don’t know. When I left the hospital, I literally collapsed, I didn’t eat for two weeks, I was sick. My job let me go.
“For 13 years, I was able to take care of (Mackenzie)… and on that evening I had to give her to someone else to take care of.”
Learning to cope
Nearly three months later, Mackenzie is still in an outpatient program, but she says she was lucky to have learned some coping skills.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “I think everyone needs to be taught the things that they taught me.”
But the family’s nightmare is not yet over.
According to Murphy, she has been unable to work because Mackenzie needs to be monitored.
“Mackenzie is not the only one that lost her freedom,” said Murphy.
“There is no one to help me ... it is difficult and I wish the government would view mental health as they (do) cancer.”
Despite the difficulties, the family has decided to speak out.
Mackenzie has created a Facebook page about her situation and the site has become a place for teens to share their stories about bullying.
The teen has also become a spokesperson for standing up against bullying. In fact, she spoke at Airdrie’s Boys and Girls Club for Pink Shirt Day, Feb. 27.
“I am really excited, it’s a great opportunity to not only be able to speak to kids my age but adults about what is going on in schools,” she said when interviewed, Feb. 26.
“(Bullying) happens too much,” she said.
“Parents need to educate their kids and you can start at a young age.”
Mackenzie said youth need to also know that bullying is likely to continue even into adulthood.
“Bullying is not going to stop, but you need to rise above it and be able to stand up for (yourself),” she said. “Kids need to know that they are not alone … there are people to talk to.”
Murphy said she has been in daily contact with Vancouver-area mom Carol Todd, whose daughter Amanda’s suicide last fall opened up a debate about bullying.
“Carol is trying to bring awareness to bullying and mental health,” she said, adding the federal government should step up and help those whose dependents are suffering with mental health problems.
In addition to being a spokesperson, Mackenzie and her mom are pursuing the creation of an anti-bullying bylaw in Airdrie.
The duo have met with Mayor Peter Brown, who raised the issue during council, Feb. 4.
At that meeting, council voted unanimously to have staff research an anti-bullying bylaw, similar to those in Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Lacombe and Hanna.
Murphy said she would like to see an anti-bullying bylaw patterned after the Town of Hanna’s, which was introduced in November.
In Hanna, bullies may be charged $250 for a first offence, and up to $1,000 for second and subsequent offences.
In default of payment, the bullies may be sent to prison for up to six months.
Standers-by and those who encourage bullying can also be charged $100 for a first offence under the new bylaw and $250 for second and subsequent offences.
Hanna’s bylaw describes bullying as “the harassment of others by the real or threatened infliction of physical violence and attacks, racially or ethnically-based verbal or gender-based put-downs, verbal taunts, name calling and put-downs, written or electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse, extortion or stealing of money and possessions and social out-casting.”
He added he is meeting with Mackenzie and Murphy later this week for the first time, adding he admires the teen.
“I just think she is a courageous young lady,” said Brown. “It’s very hard to go public with this kind of thing, but the fact that she has the courage to stand up … ultimately what she is trying to do is help other people. I have a lot of respect for her and for what she has done.”
Murphy said a bylaw, which could see bullies and bystanders liable for charges and fines, has the support of several organizations including the RCMP, Rocky View Schools, City staff, council and Community Links.
Const. David Henry, who has worked at Airdrie’s high schools for five years, said he is 100 per cent behind the bylaw.
“I have seen a drastic increase in online bullying, and nasty stuff,” he said, adding that a bylaw would give him another tool to fight bullying, which he said occupies 90 per cent of his time.
“(The victims) are devastated, because they can’t delete it and it out there for (everyone) to see.”
According to Henry, currently, he can either give kids a warning or lay criminal harassment charges.
Murphy said the bylaw would give the RCMP a valuable tool.
“Right now, (the bullies) are hiding behind a computer screen,” said Murphy.
“They are hiding behind their parents.”
Murphy said bullies often go unpunished.
“No one should have to lose a kid or have a child admitted to the hospital,” said Murphy.
Brown said no further details will be available on the bylaw until mid to late April when staff will present a report to council.