By Dan Anderson
Dan’s wife writes at It’s Hard Being Perfect. This post was his guest post on her site. I am honored and grateful that they shared it with me.
Below are two news stories that have gotten some high-profile press in the past couple of weeks.
Student’s suicide linked to webcast of sexual encounter http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/09/30/new.jersey.student.suicide.archive/index.html?iref=allsearch
Hundreds pay tribute at Texas boy’s memorial
These two stories are examples of many that have recently involved some form of bullying those that are different, resulting in a person taking their own life as a way to cope.
So many questions …
Why do bullies feel the need to exploit the weak? What responsibility do schools have to stop bullying? Teach tolerance? How should the law/society be involved to eliminate this? What can we teach kids to make them proud of who they are? How do we learn and celebrate differences in sexuality, religion, race, appearance and interests? What aren’t we doing as a society that makes someone feel that ending their life is the only escape from being different?
And many more …
I’m 38 years old. I’m 5’9” and 185 pounds. Not necessarily a small guy. But from 1st grade until my senior year of high school, I was a scrawny, short scared weakling. I had been bullied many times and it is a self-confidence damaging feeling you never escape. Even to this day the thought of being bullied can evoke intense feelings of fear, hopelessness and anger.
This is why I felt the need to “guest blog” on my wife’s site. Bullies don’t need reasons to harass other than they can. I wasn’t picked on because I was gay, eccentric, dressed funny, talked funny, wore glasses or smelled bad. I was picked on because I was smaller than the bully and couldn’t fight back.
But the reason doesn’t matter. The inability to do anything about it is what made it scary. If you tell on a bully, they get mad and take it out on you worse. If you try and fight back, you risk physical pain or getting in trouble yourself. Parents tell you to ignore, avoid, “talk to them” and other things that just provoke more bullying. It is no wonder we are reading stories of people wanting out because the system allows bullies to exist and provides no help.
So here is what I think …
Schools from an early age should teach tolerance and individuality. Highlight the great people of history that made their mark on this world by being different. Teach the stronger children that it is their duty to protect those who need it. Eliminate from their classrooms any child that thinks it is alright to hurt another child verbally or physically for being different, smaller, or uglier.
Put it back on the parents to teach tolerance and acceptance if they want their child to attend school. Letting kids “work it out” does not work. Some are better at walking away, taking their licks, or even fighting back but no child should have to feel scared to go to school. Learning enough to reach graduation is hard enough.
I have two boys. The older one is my little clone. He looks like me, talks like me and has the same need to please everyone as me. I know that the system will not do anything in the near future to protect him from the fears that haunted me as a student. I ask myself often what will I do to help him have a different experience than me. I often think of teaching him how to fight so that he won’t be scared in that type of situation and then I worry he will turn into a bully himself or be in a situation that gets him kicked out of school.
But what else can I do? Teach him to be better at sports? Teach him how to hide? Teach him how to tattle? Encourage him to conform so he doesn’t stand out? Tell him that the goal in life is to be liked by everyone? Will I go over to a bully’s parents’ house and confront them? Get authorities involved? None of these seem like good solutions.
I do know one thing. My sons will know that with my help we will find a solution and that no situation is so hopeless that suicide is the best or only option.
I’d really like to hear what you have to say. Especially if you have ever dealt with bullying yourself.