Teen’s Fictional Story of a Bullied Child’s Suicide: Did it go too far?

Hailey Bennett is 12 years old – her mother died when she was three and her father is abusive. She’s been bullied for years – in school and on her Facebook page where she admits she wants to die and is ignored – and eventually she commits suicide. At least that is the fictional story being told by Jessica Barba, a 15 year old high school student from New York who created a video called “The Story of Hailey Bennett” as a class project to make a point – that bullying is real, that it happens every day and could be happening to the child who on the surface is living a happy life – and that each and every one of us can and should make a difference in putting an end to this.

To tell Hailey’s story Jessica created a six-minute video and a fake Facebook page. Both had disclaimers to let viewers know that Hailey was a fictional character. A concerned parent however saw “Hailey’s” Facebook page with the update that said “I wanna be dead” and called the police who contacted the school. Despite multiple disclaimers that this was a fictional story, Jessica was suspended from school for 5 days.

“I just created the video in order to raise awareness of the major issue that’s bullying,” 15-year-old Jessica Barba told Matt Lauer on TODAY. “I don’t understand why I’m being punished for it.”

And really when it comes down to it, that is the question. Should she have been? Jessica created a fake Facebook page – that violated Facebook’s terms of service – but the unfortunate truth is that happens every day, often with intent to harm – to bully or deliberately hurt or humiliate others – not to raise awareness of that behavior and encourage others to take a stand against it.

Here is Jessica’s video:

It’s amazing the world technology allows us to create. 10 years ago Jessica Barba could only have submitted this as a paper – I doubt it would have created this much uproar. But not today. Today, she brought us into Hailey’s world and it was real enough to frighten a parent into calling the police. Real enough to frighten the school administration into suspending her. But should they have? Too often what we don’t see is exactly what we need to see…and Jessica Barba certainly opened our eyes.

But did she go too far? Or did the school officials? What do you think??

About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


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