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Cyber Bullying: Mackenzie Motola
By Gillian Ludlow
*Editor's Note: This is a part of a series of articles called "Fight Against Bullies" by Ms. Ludlow as a part of her capstone project for graduate school under the same name. For the first two, click here and here.
Mackenzie Motola, 16, is just your typical girl; she lives at home in with her mother in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and attends Midlothian High School. She is the youngest of four, and her three older brothers attended and graduated from Midlothian High School.
“She’s very tender-hearted, she’s nonjudgmental,” said Tammy Motola, Mackenzie’s mother, during a phone interview. “She loves everyone … she is a good student.”
According to Tammy Motola, some kids would pick on MacKenzie in middle school.
“It was not so much [the bullying] that I felt like it was an issue,” Tammy Motola said. “And we worked some of those issues, and as a mother, my daughter and I are really close. I would tell her, ‘You have to consider the source, and the people who do this, and they’re missing something on the inside.’ You know, the usual thing a parent would tell their child.”
When Mackenzie entered her freshman year, then 15-years-old, at Midlothian, things started out great, according to Tammy Motola. However, as the year progressed, some kids chose Mackenzie as their target.
It started with things such as the bullies telling Mackenzie that she was fat and ugly. Then a girl who Mackenzie thought was her friend, all of the way from elementary school to high school, turned on her. Mackenzie didn’t know what happened. Every day, Mackenzie would come home crying from school. Morning after morning, Mackenzie would giver her mother some excuse as to why she didn’t want to school, and Tammy Motola realized that things weren’t getting better.
It was then that Tammy Motola decided to go to the school and do something. School officials at Midlothian High School told Tammy Motola things like “kids will be kids” or “you’re making something out of nothing.”
At that time, Tammy felt that the school should protect Mackenzie because it is their job; however, schools have sovereign immunity on their side, meaning that the only thing that the school protects is itself. Schools only have to provide “a hostile-free environment,” which was not being provided for Mackenzie. Every time there was a bullying incident involving Mackenzie, Tammy Motola would go to the school’s office. In April 2013, the bullying became so bad that Tammy Motola had to pull Mackenzie out of school. The school told Tammy it was her responsibility to provide Mackenzie with therapy and tutoring. In turn, if Tammy met the conditions, the school would provide homebound teachers for Mackenzie for the remainder of the year.
Mackenzie attended therapy all through the summer of 2013. Two weeks into starting her sophomore year back at Midlothian, the bullies started targeting Mackenzie again. At that time, Tammy Motola was on a trip in London when she received a phone call from Mackenzie, who was in hysterics. Mackenzie said that they were tweeting horrible things about her and asked her mother to come home. When Tammy Motola got home, she discovered that all of the harmful Facebook posts and tweets identified Mackenzie by her first and last name.
Tammy Motola went back to the school and told them that this time, they were going to help her stop the bullying and cyber bullying. Schools officials realized then that the problems that were going on were serious, and they weren’t going to go away without action. Mackenzie wasn’t the only victim of bullying and cyber bullying; there were other kids that were victims as well.
“Times are different, with social media this is an issue [cyber bullying] with our youth,” Tammy Motola said. “And what parents don’t understand is that it’s out there forever.”
“All of these people can say ‘tell your daughter not to be on Twitter.’ My daughter was never on Twitter. But what the problem is all of these other people would come up and say ‘look at what [so and so] said about you on Twitter.’ And then they would say ‘well, she shouldn’t be on Facebook.’ She does have a Facebook, but she’s hardly ever on it. Who gives someone the right to defame a person just because I tell my child to close [his or her] laptop? That doesn’t go away.”
Tammy Motola believes that part of the problem lies with the parents. She feels that parents shouldn’t just give their kids a device and never think about it again. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing, whom they’re talking to and what sites they’re visiting.
Tammy and Mackenzie created The Bully Buzz to give Mackenzie a way to help others while empowering herself. Mackenzie opted to stay at Midlothian because there are bullies everywhere.
“Changing schools wouldn’t have helped,” Tammy Motola said. “What needed to change was how Mackenzie saw herself because of all of the negativity around her. So that’s what we really had to work on.”
There were a couple of other issues that happened during the beginning of the school year. Tammy Motola went to the local courthouse and placed a restraining order on a child to protect Mackenzie. The school recognized and ended up siding with Tammy Motola after she sought out the restraining order.
Cyber bullying hasn’t just affected Mackenzie; it has affected kids and their families all across the world. Both adolescents and parents should understand the impact that cyber bullying and bullying has and learn to become accountable and raise awareness.
“Mackenzie, even though very hurt by people she believed were her friends, is stronger than she has ever been. When I look at her, I am proud. I am so happy she is on her way and recognizes now that people are just mean and insensitive,” Tammy Motola said. “What she will offer this world as a result of everything she has been though though, is compassion... She is a survivor on many levels.”
Tammy and Mackenzie Motola plan to continue making an impact across the country and in other nations as advocates for the anti-bullying movement. Through Mackenzie’s pain and heartache, together they have found a purpose as mother and daughter.
Join Mackenzie and Tammy Motola's group, The Bully Buzz on Facebook. You can also watch them on NBC 12 Richmond's exclusive on cyber bullying.
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