By Anne Daniel, Student Assistance Specialist, Caron Treatment Centers
Tyler Clementi’s preventable death is an American tragedy. He will not be able to realize his full potential as a human being.
We are all, like it or not, a part of a society that contributed to the forces behind his death. As a parent of two girls, ages twelve and nine, I feel like promoting tolerance and acceptance of all people is as important as helping my kids with their homework, getting them to school on time, speaking to them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and caring and providing for them.
When my children were quite young, I became aware of how early messages about gender expression were being conveyed to children. One mother I knew was told by her husband that she had to return the red shoes that she had purchased for their 12 month old boy because red was a “gay” color. I knew another mother whose husband would not allow his two year old son to push a play stroller or play in a pretend kitchen.
More recently I heard a story about a little boy who wears his hair long and sometimes wears dresses being told by another student that he shouldn’t use the boys’ bathroom but that he should use the girls’ room instead.
Both of my daughters have classmates whose parents are gay or lesbian. Yet even growing up in a diverse school didn’t prevent one of my twelve year old daughter’s classmates from calling her a “lesbian” (like it is a bad thing) and telling another friend of hers on Facebook to engage in a lesbian sexual act with her.In this particular case, the bullying has an anti-gay sentiment. However, children are bullied every day for all kinds of differences (short, tall, overweight, religious beliefs, allergies and the list goes on and on).
When I’m wearing one of my Caron hats, I give drug and alcohol prevention programs to middle and high school parents. Sometimes I hear the naysayers at these presentations: “Things have always been this way and nothing that I do is going to change anything”. But research shows that this simply isn’t true.
Study after study indicates that parents are important role models and that there are specific ways we can encourage positive and healthy choices in our children. As parents we send subtle and not so subtle signals to our kids about everything. We should all make an effort to be mindful of what we are teaching our children whether it is about drugs and alcohol, tolerance of other religions, or acceptance of people who are different. It isn’t always easy to take an honest look at ourselves, but it is important.
One of the things that I love about working for Caron is that we treat everyone with kindness and respect. Let’s teach our kids to walk this talk. In 5 years, all my older daughter’s classmates will be Tyler Clementi’s age. I wish a better world for the Tyler Clementi’s of the future, and I’m going to keep working so my children, my students and I are part of the solution, not part of the problem. All children deserve an opportunity to reach their full potential.
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