*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events ***
I am so tired of feeling devastated, seeing the constant posts of children taking their own lives. Reading about teen suicides that seem to be occurring more and more frequently is truly heartbreaking.
There’s 11 year old Michael Morones who was bullied (and is now in a persistent vegetative state from hanging himself) for being a My Little Pony fan. Every time I see his beautiful face on my Facebook feed, I just want to break down and cry.
Then there’s Ashley Payton who was driven to bullycide on February 5, 2014, just shy of her 16th birthday. A girl who was so beautiful and yet was convinced she wasn’t. Self esteem issues seemingly at play here, as is at the heart of all too many other teen-related issues like eating disorders (anorexia/bulimia), cutting, drugs, and depression….just to name a few.
And finally, there’s the article in the Clarion Ledger dated April 12, 2014 titled “Anti-bullying Laws Fail to Stem Youth Suicide” by Emily Le Coz, which is what motivated me to write this post today. The article reveals frightening statistics of the numbers of youth suicides each year and how bullying is most often cited as the root of the epidemic, despite anti-bullying laws in place in most states. The article mentions 15-year-old Lyndsey Taylor Aust, bullied for merely having acnie, was but one of THREE suicides in her school within ONE MONTH period (this is what is referred to as a “contagion effect”).
Sure, schools have some form of anti-bullying policy in place, but I have yet to hear about a school that has an effective one. For one thing, instead of an environment of transparency in schools, you have one that is controlled by fear that stems from the stigma of depression and suicide. Instead of transparency and a culture that TRULY cares about the welfare of students, schools fear doing anything to change the negative culture, hence the sweeping of depression, suicide and bullying under the rug. There is a price to pay for such willful ignorance. Look at what happened at Scott County Central High School in Mississippi….three suicides in ONE MONTH.
The fact of the matter is our children are feeling hopeless and helpless enough to end their own precious lives. There have been arguments that bullying is not necessarily the sole and direct cause of all youth suicides. That it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Well, there is ABSOLUTELY a correlation between victims of bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts, according to a study published in the March 2014 edition of JAMA Pediatrics. You can also review the booklet posted over on the CDC website titled The Relationship Between Bullying & Suicide. Both parents and educators should familiarize themselves with this information.
If there are self esteem issues that are leading toward changes in behavior/sleep/eating, depression should be looked at and treated. In a number of recent cases I’ve read about recently, I noticed that parents indicated there was absolutely no sign whatsoever that anything was out of the ordinary. Their children seemed like their happy, normal selves. I don’t know any of these families’ situations, but there is a greater tendency to bully or be bullied in the following situations in which a stable support system is lacking:
- Greater numbers of single parents than ever before
- Dual-career parents who are busy working long hours at full-time jobs and spending less time at home with the kids and providing positive behavior role modeling, interaction, and simply listening opportunities
- Risk factors for depression and other mental health issues, like eating disorders, self esteem issues, family history of mental illness, extreme poverty, emotional/physical abuse, lack of nurturing, etc.
I am not in any way blaming any parents whose children took their own lives. I’m imploring ALL parents to be more in tune with their children. If there is an underlying mental health issue, then PLEASE get help for them. If you see that there are changes in demeanor, behavior, diet, and sleep, please observe, talk to and listen….REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY AND REALLY OBSERVE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND MANNERISMS CLOSELY. If they refuse to open up to you, please try to get them a neutral third party–someone experienced with teen issues and depression, like a family counselor–to talk to them. Put aside any feelings of shame or fear from the stigma of mental illness.
If you are of the camp of parents who believes the best way your children will learn to adapt to and survive in this world is by doing it with very little to no guidance from you, I implore you to put aside any feelings you may have that, since you toughed it up and lasted through mean kids and got through tough times in school, your child can too. Don’t think for one second that what you went through growing up back in the 60s, 70s or 80s is the same as growing up today in the 21st century when kids are heavy users of social media and can be cyberbullied day and night via texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, and online forums in which teens “hang out” in an often anonymous fashion. Anonymity affords cyberbullies/trolls access to an easy–albeit even more cowardly than in-person bullying–means to harass, intimidate and taunt in a public forum, and gives others to join in/gang up to make an emotionally vulnerable young individual miserable. And put aside the belief that it’s impossible for them to ever have any mental health issues because “depression just doesn’t happen to anyone in my household; I wouldn’t allow them to be weak like that.”
In these cases–since we all know that middle and high schools are a breeding ground for kids undergoing hormone changes who, as part of the socialization process that goes with growing up, try to assert themselves in inappropriate ways–we need to ensure our children are prepared. I’m not saying we need to be like the helicopter parents that are so oft criticized in parenting articles, and solve all our kids’ problems so we can keep them out of harm’s way. No, not at all. I’m saying that we need to provide guidance to our children. After all, that’s what parents do. We use our own experiences and wisdom gained from living and learning….and from our own parents. From the time our children are toddlers, we teach/coach/guide our children to feed themselves, go potty themselves, talk, stand up, walk, change themselves, brush their teeth, behave appropriate/use inside voices in public spaces…and so on.
I can’t help but view a school as one huge boxing ring within which kids are forced to demonstrate their survival skills. Because school ends up being where kids spend most of their time every day of the school year, it’s not unreasonable for me to say that every school district should help kids with training on how to cope with mean kids. In fact, I fervently believe schools should be mandated to add to their curriculum–for first grade all the way through twelfth grade–a year long training on social skills.
It’s one thing that schools observe a Week of Kindness every October. That’s only five days out of a 183-day school year. Schools will generally have a mission that includes words like emotional wellness, appreciation of diversity, fostering respect. But let’s face it, since we can’t even get the majority of schools in this country to deal with bullying effectively, the responsibility for teaching our kids coping skills rests on parents.
It is inevitable that there are mean kids in every school. What we need to focus on is how to provide our children with guidance on how to cope with mean kids. It is crucial that parents teach their children to adapt to and survive in this world by nurturing, guidance, and simply being there for them. Providing guidance is not the same thing as making things easier for our kids and fixing all their issues so down the road they have no problem solving skills of their own. I’m talking about helping our children develop skills they need to fix their own problems. Self esteem is a huge issue for all too many teens. Not every teen is going to know how to let mean behavior slide like it took me years to learn how to do myself.
Resources I would like to recommend for both parents and educators (I am early in my research, so more to come in future blog posts):
- For parents/teachers of girls (starting from the time they are in Kindergarten): “Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades” by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert
- Enrolling girls in programs (for various ages starting from 1st grade) like Girls Leadership Institute (GLI) (http://www.girlsleadershipinstitute.org/programs) that hold sessions for different age groups that allow for role playing (very critical) that is actually a method mentioned in the Little Girls Can Be Mean book. More and more schools, and even the Girl Scouts, are partnering with GLI, which is awesome.