The harrowing stories of cyberbullying, and their fatal results, have filled newspapers over the past two years. Now ABC Family and Seventeen magazine are bringing awareness to this digital abuse, as part of the Delete Digital Drama initiative.
The movie Cyberbully stars Emily Osment (Hanna Montana) as Taylor Hillridge, a 17 year-old high school student dealing with her parent’s divorce, and painfully aware of her lower social status. When her mother gives her a computer for her birthday, she’s thrilled with the prospect of going online to meet new friends, but she soon finds herself the victim of cyberbullying while visiting a popular social website.
Obsessed with the damaging posts, she begins to withdraw from her family and friends, including her best friend Samantha Caldon, played by Kay Panamaker (No Ordinary Family), pushing her to a breaking point.
Emily and Kay spoke with us about this important movie and their message to other young people facing this dilemma.
Did you research the subject of cyberbullying?
Emily Osment: Yeah, absolutely, my mom’s a teacher and she hears all kinds of stuff about bullying, and she sees kids go through it. Just the other day, she had a parent come in from another school, because my mom is a really good teacher, and this mom said, ‘My child is dealing with some extreme bullying situation which is leading to suicide.’
So I talked to her many, many hours, about what she sees, and how kids go through it.
I was really interested in this film because the character takes such a journey, and it’s such a growth, a completely different mindset of this character from where she starts and where she finishes.
And on top of that, the press and the campaign that’s happening around this is a huge deal. We’re making this such a big deal, which we need to.
Cyberbullying, the more you emphasize it, the more chance it has of getting better.
Can you talk a little about your character?
Kay Panabaker: I play her best friend Samantha.
But as Taylor becomes more and more introverted, as she feels alienated, I feel hurt by her unresponsiveness.
So what’s nice about this film is it focuses on Taylor’s journey, but you see the journey of the bully, and her friends and her family, and how it affects everyone.
Do you have any friends who have been victims?
Emily: I haven’t. When I was in high school we didn’t have that kind of pressure to bully online. If you were a bully, you had the courage to do it in person. And now it can be so easily anonymous. That’s what this movie focuses on, the anonymous bullying. How easy it is just to be mean.
But now when we put ourselves out there on Twitter, Facebook and all that stuff, as public figures it’s easy to see that. For me, I don’t care. I deal with it with humor.
When would you say was the hardest time for both of you?
Kay: I don’t know. I think now is kind of transitioning. I’m 21 years old, but look like I’m 16. I know so many kids my age who look younger but desperately want those older, edgy roles. And I’m not ready, not there emotionally.
This is such a tough age, from the time you’re ten to the time you’re 25, 30, you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life. And that’s an immense amount of pressure for anybody, let alone to be in this business where work is so questionable.
What about you, what’s been the hardest time?
Emily: The hardest time is the time between times. When you’re sitting there saying, ‘Should I not be an actor?’ But it’s good, because I’ve put off college to work. I’m doing things out of order, but I have so much life experience.
I’m able to say that and not sound pompous, but I really do have a lot of experience, because I’ve traveled now, and I feel very lucky that my work is taking me where it has. And I’ve been able to work with who I have.
I feel it definitely has made me who I am today. Not to sound cliché , but I love it, I love this industry, and I don’t care if there’s time in between, and the projects that I work on.
Do you have any advice to teens on Cyberbullying?
Kay: It’s how you deal with things. If it’s easier for you to ignore it, try it that way. Try confronting the bully, not aggressively, but say, ‘Hey, this sucks, could you at least not target me?’ Or sometimes you can make friends with your bullies, it all varies.
If you’re really struggling, go online, they have stompoutbullying.org., there are all these different avenues you can go anonymously or not anonymously to figure out the right path for you.
Emily: Have something to say if you’re ever approached by a bully, so you’re not caught off guard. I think that’s the main thing, just have three things you can say or do, or just walk away. Or just make some funny comment. I’d just bring some humor to it.
I mean you have to have a way to deal with it because it’s extreme, and it can really affect your life as we see in this movie.