Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Just. Be. Kind.

Recently a 13-year old girl here in Minnesota hung herself after being bullied and tormented at school.

She was 13.  A 13-year old child.  Sweet, innocent, had not even begun to live her life yet.  Thirteen!

I don't understand this.  I don't think anyone can.  This is not an isolated incident, by any means.  It seems to be getting worse and worse, no matter how many groups are formed at school to battle the bullying, or awareness walks, or t-shirts or whatever.  What is going on?

It is so terrifying to send our kids to school every day.  We hear things like this, and cannot help but picture our kids being the target of such hateful actions.  Or, God forbid, being cruel to another kid.  We can try our best to teach our kids, but in the end, do we really have any control over this?  What can we do?

When I was a kid, I was picked on.  There were certainly kids that were picked on worse than me, but what I went through was certainly traumatizing.  We didn't have a ton of money growing up, so I never had the "cool" clothes.  Or the correct brand of shoes.  I wasn't allowed to wear make up when most of the other girls were.  My hair was curly, and didn't work with most of the 80's trends.  I was shy, and did not have an ounce of athletic ability.  I had spit balls spit at me on the bus.  I had my books knocked out of my arms.  I had people make fun of my clothing.  I didn't get invited to parties.  Mean girls gave me notes on the bus that said they were going to beat me up when I got off the bus, so most days I just sat in front and ran off the bus, and then ran all the way home, terrified.  I'm sure that made it worse, as they watched me and laughed, probably never actually wanting to fight, just humiliate me.

This was about a two-year period in my life, that seemed to last forever.  Seventh and eighth grade.  I was 13-ish.  Once it passed, my life was just fine, people left me alone, and I had a pretty fun time in high school.  But I'll never forget that feeling.  And I was a nice kid.  I was NEVER mean to anyone.  I was average looking, quiet, but not weird or anything.  I was made a target, I think, because it was easy.  I didn't know what to do to stop it, so I did nothing but endure it.  Just surviving to the next day.  And it wasn't really that bad, looking back.  During class I was pretty much left alone.  Nobody bothered me during off-school hours.  I had a LOT of time that was just fine and normal.

Now, that is not the case.  There is cell phones and texting.  Facebook and e-mail.  The bullying turns into a 24-hour problem, never stopping.  Relentless.  And kids are cruel.  There gets to be a pack mentality, and it's rare that a kid has the courage to stand up for the victim and stop it.  Kids don't tell their parents for fear that it will get worse.  I know this because I felt the same way.  My mom would become unhinged if I told her everything that was happening, and I certainly did not want any of the kids that were picking on me to see her come into the school, or to be pulled into a meeting with the principal and our parents.  That would make it so much worse for me when nobody was there to protect me.  So you just endure.

This young 13-year old girl who took her own life did not confide to her parents.  It doesn't mean her family was not supportive and loving.  It means she was terrified of making the problem worse, and she could not see a solution.  What a horrific feeling it must have been.

I send my two boys to school every day.  They are in 3rd and 4th grade, so they're still pretty young.  Already we see and hear hints of kids being mean.  Bossy kids at baseball, strutting around trying to be the toughest kid.  Teams still being picked at recess for sports, where my kid (and if it wasn't my kid it would be someone else's) is always picked last.  And knows it.  I have boys, so I think it's not quite as bad for them yet.  But there are already mean girls.  Talking about how people dress, who's fat and who's skinny, making mean comments about artwork that other kids made or items they brought in for show and tell.  We tell our kids every single day to be kind.  To never be cruel.  To always think about how you make people feel, the way your actions and words can impact others.  To always stand up for kids who are being picked on or who seem sad.

And now we are teaching them to stand up for themselves.  That if a kid is mean to them, they don't need to just bow their heads in shame.  Tell them to knock it off.  Try not to be afraid.  Talk to us about it.  Don't let yourself be a victim.

I think it's so awful that this stuff goes on.  I wish I knew what to do about it.  I plan to try my hardest to stay aware of who their friends are.  Their moods when they get home from school.  Their activities on the computer, once that starts up.  Their social media and texting.  It's a shame, but we have to be nosy parents.

My heart is aching for the family who lost their little girl for such a senseless reason.  And I can't help but feel rage about the kids who hurt her.  What kind of parents or families are raising these kids who are so mean?  I cannot understand.

Sometimes I wish I could pull my kids out of school during middle school and home-school them, then send them back to school for high school.  I wish there was a way I could protect them from the damage these bullies can do.

But all I can do for now is burst a little of their childhood bubbles by making sure they know that sometimes other kids are assholes.  That they will get their feelings hurt.  That kids will be mean sometimes.  And it is never all right to be cruel, but that if we encounter cruelty we have to rise above it and do our part to stop it.  It can grow like a cancer.  We adults are powerless, really.  No matter how many assemblies we hold, ribbons we tie, or even movies we make.  We need to empower our kids to stop it, because they are the only ones who can.

Remember how our parents taught us, "sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me"?  Look where that got us.

Words do hurt.  They can even be fatal.

Just.  Be.  Kind.  Is it really that difficult?  And parents, for God's sake, set a good example.


  1. Nicely put Teri! I agree 100%!! Heart-breaking! :(

  2. Shared on my page...hope that's ok...we have to talk about how to help our kids take care of each other and themselves. How terrible for this family.