Friday, October 15, 2010

Bullied To Death

How many of us had occasional problems in school with what we called a 'bully'? Let's face it, even if you're a popular kid not everyone will like you. Were you ever taunted or made fun of by someone else at school? Did anyone ever spread rumors about you?

I'll be the first to raise my hand. I was a quiet kid who spent most of her time reading. That didn't endear me to a lot of people, but I did have my own circle of friends and, with the exception of occasional remarks about my height (or lack therof) and a few remarks about 'sucking up to the teachers', I was fine.

Imagine though that such taunts and remarks, along with much worse inferences, were all a part of your daily routine. Imagine that others made endless fun of a disability, your sexual orientation, or some other personal attribute. Suppose physical violence was added to the taunts? What if pictures, comments, etc., were posted on the internet about you?

Such constant, non-ceasing negative behavior crosses a line and becomes terroristic or 'bullying'. In the wake of suicides of teenagers over the past several months, including Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15, Billy Lucas, 15, and Tyler Clementi, 18, bullying has finally received a long overdue focus in the media and elsewhere.

Tonight(Friday, Oct. 15) ABC will air a 20/20 segment titled "Bullied To Death: Victims' Stories. This segment will talk to victims and parents of victims about bullying. It will examine why kids bully and whether schools are doing everything they can to help prevent bullying.

One portion of this show will focus on Tyler Long, 17 years old, a young man in Georgia who committed suicide last year in the wake of long-term bullying at his high school. Tyler suffered from Asperger's Disorder. His parents, David and Tina Long, have filed a lawsuit against the school system and his high school principal, alleging that the school failed to protect Tyler from bullying which they say included other students punching him the face, spitting in his food, stuffing food in his face and calling him names, as well as other verbal and physical abuse.

I mention Tyler Long in particular because all this happened in a high school in a nearby county. I did not know Tyler or his parents, but I have followed the story in local newspapers and my heart goes out to them. The one thing that runs through my mind over and over again is "that could have been me", and I think that's a thought that all of us would do well to remember.

I'm raising my five-year-old niece, who just started kindergarten this year. I read the accounts of bullying and the stories of children committing suicide and I am frightened for her. Every day I do my best to make sure that she has confidence in herself, as well as respect and compassion for others. I hope that I am doing enough.

As this episode of 20/20 shows, however, there is always more that all of us can do. It is a shame that it has taken the senseless deaths of children to bring bullying such widespread attention. Do not let those deaths be without purpose. If nothing else, let them be the catalyst to our taking action to prevent the bullying and senseless deaths of others. Remember, it could have been you, or it could be one of your children.

Resources for kids and their parents:

The Trevor Project

It Gets Better Project

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely. I was bullied myself, and such behaviour is never acceptable, and is always a big deal. In my own experiences, the greatest disappointment was that the adults who were supposed to be protecting me wilfully did nothing.

With regards to your niece, the best thing that you can do for her is to teach her to always stand up for herself, and that you (and other adults) are always there to back her up. I'm sure that with there to look out for her, she'll do great.

And you have my admiration for sharing details about your own experiences of bullying. I'm seeing a lot of it around lately, and am glad that people have the strength to stand up and tell their stories, so that the world might actually pay attention to this. I wish I was strong enough to talk in detail about my own experiences.