(Originally posted on 11/29/10)
“I can't take one more day of this. Why did they pick me”
-7th grade boy
“I do it because at least I can control this pain.”
-8th grade girl talking about cutting her arms
“I will not be back tomorrow. You can call the hospital. I don't care. I will get out...and I will kill myself.”
-10th grade boy
“Please make it stop. Please.”
-6th grade girl
“Maybe they're right. They are right. Look at me. I'm disgusting.”
-9th grade girl
“They call me everything...just walking down the hall...every minute of everyday. What will you do that's any different than what anyone else has done to stop it? Nothing.”
-9th grade boy
These are real children. Real lives. Real pain. I hear these things more often than I should; kids looking at me, begging me, to help them. And quite honestly, sometimes I can't. Unfortunately, many adults, including those in education and counseling, think that bullying is not a big deal. They believe it is a rite of passage, something everyone goes through. But that is simply not true.
I often speak to and train adults and children about bullying/harassment prevention and intervention. It is a part of my overall focus on violence issues. When I first became involved with the issue of bullying, I was skeptical. I mean, I came from a family with 3 brothers, lots of sports and some big egos. But as I learned more, saw the numbers and became aware of the effects on those who are bullied and those who bully, my attitudes began to shift.
First, I had to realize that bullying wasn't that back and forth picking that goes on between friends. Heck, if that were true, my friends and I would all be victims and bullies. Bullying takes place when someone who has more power than someone else hurts someone, physically or emotionally, over and over again. That power definitely does not always translate to size. More often than not, it has to do with status or popularity. Bullying takes different forms: physical, emotional and social. Many means are used. Some were around when we were kids. But, many were not. Consider cyber-bullying. If someone had a bad picture of you when you were younger, it could be destroyed. Now, it can live on forever in cyber-space. It can be altered to look like anything and posted all over the web. Hateful words a kid would never say face to face now get sent with the simple touch of a cellphone button. Then, that same message or picture can be sent to countless people in an instant.
Approximately 150,000 kids stay home from school daily because of fear. Yes, you read that right. Many more suffer in silence day in and day out. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surpassed only by accidents and homicide. The number each year is approximately 4500. Four thousand five hundred young people. That is 4500 too many.
Children who are bullied are more likely to drop out of school, experience illness and depression, use drugs and/or alcohol, and yes, have thoughts of suicide. On the other side, children who bully also have negative consequences. By the age 24, six out of ten youth identified as bullies will have a criminal record. Unless they are taught and develop empathy, they will continue down the negative path.
Not every child can stand up to bullies on their own. Many need extra support and understanding. This does not mean they are weak or “wimpy.” It doesn't mean they will always be bullied. Most children who are given the support they need and taught the skills they need will go on to be healthy, productive adults. Young people are amazingly resilient.
We need to intervene to stop the bullies as well. If a school is not taking the necessary steps to stop it, go higher. Do not stop until it stops. Unfortunately, I have too many stories I could share about parents living with horrible guilt after their child's suicide. They told the school. They thought they had handled it. They didn't follow up.
Put aside whatever biases you may have. Every child is our child. Every boy and girl should be protected until they can protect themselves. Mentor. Model the right behaviors and responses to overcome the struggles they face. Treat others the way you want your child to treat others; and the way you want them to be treated. Things aren't the same as they were when you and I were kids. True, there are some common themes. But, the youth of today face obstacles, challenges and behaviors we did not have to face. Listen to what your kids are saying-not just with their words. Pay attention to their lives. Be aware of changes like frequent illnesses, a drop in grades, loss of interest in social events, becoming withdrawn, sadness that lasts more than a few days and any other sudden changes. Kids speak to us in many ways and very little of what they have to say actually comes from their words.
I carry the picture of one young lady in my head to remind me why I do what I do. She was called all those words we are, unfortunately, so used to hearing; words that kids hear everyday. Fat. Ugly. Whore. Stupid. Dumb. She took her life on a very lonely afternoon. She will not be forgotten.
*If you would like more information about bullying, there are many good places to look. Two sources I recommend are www.starsnashville.org and www.olweus.org .