It’s happened again.
Another child, bullied to death. Last week, Ellen DeGeneres made this plea to end bullying following the suicide of a Rutgers student. The student’s dorm roommates secretly filmed him having sex and then posted the video online with the explicit intent of outing him as a homosexual, humiliating him literally to death.
Though this is a senseless and cruel act, that’s not what disturbs me about this. What I find most upsetting is that this particular incident – the latest in a summer filled with similar tragedies – is that the perpetrators were college students, not elementary or middle school age, but legal adults according to the law, old enough to vote, and old enough to know better.
Bullying gets a lot of lip service but whatever we’re doing to prevent kids from growing into adult bullies obviously isn’t enough. Look, I’m not out of touch with reality. Mine is a two-kid, two-income household with all the responsibilities and chaos the two kids and two jobs produce. I’ve had a four-foot hole in my ceiling for the past year. I drove an eleven-year old car with no air-conditioning all summer. Repair jobs have to take a number in my life so yes, stress and I are intimately acquainted. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to let the stress and the chores and the exhaustion and all the other stuff remove us from our kids’ lives.
You’re probably thinking, “Oh, I know my kid. He or she would never do that.” I’m pretty sure the parents of every kid involved in these recent bullying incidents had the same thought. Don’t believe me? Okay. Consider the times you’ve left your child with a sitter or a friend for a play date. How many excellent reports have you received? You know, the kind where you hear how the same child who can’t remember to say please and thank you at home is suddenly Miss Manners at the neighbor’s house. Ask any parent and I promise you, they have a similar story about how their child behaves differently outside of the home.
Sometimes, “differently” isn’t always positive and much as we hate to admit that, we can no longer afford to deny it.
When my oldest was in sixth grade, I nearly lost him. And had absolutely no idea. Sixth grade was a tough year for him. New school, plus he was in the throes of puberty complete with bad skin, a massive growth spurt, changing voice and body hair. Lots of body hair. Though he stood head and shoulders taller than everyone in his class, his former friends, still little boys, thought it would be great fun to tease my son about all the changes his body was undergoing. Every day. For the entire school term.
Where was I? I was working, keeping the house, driving boys to and from various activities, and blaming his moodiness on hormones… you know, the “phase” everyone tells you kids go through.
So, it came as a complete and utter shock when my son came home from a hockey game one night, flung himself into my arms, sobbing he no longer wanted to live.
Wait. That’s not all of it.
After contacting the principal, his teachers, and getting him weeks of therapy, I thought everything was just fine. So, it came as another complete and utter shock when I arrived home one Saturday morning after running errands to find an extremely angry older brother banging on my front door, claiming that my son, the same boy bullied in sixth grade, was now the one making fun of his brother in seventh grade.
Holy heart-stopping hell.
Once I got Mr. Testosterone to convince his mother to step out of her idling mini-van, I got the true story. Her little boy came up to my stubble-faced, five-foot-nine-inch-tall-seventh grader’s stomach. Every time my son did as little as fist-bump this boy, he felt intimidated. My son insists he never tormented him. However, after listening to his mother and brother detail every incident where the boy came home shivering, my son was forced to admit he could understand the boy’s perception.
This doesn’t excuse college-aged students pulling a hidden camera stunt, but it makes you wonder… was death really their intent? In my heart, I have to believe it wasn’t… they were just having a laugh. I also wonder just how many kids are engaging in bullying or standing by when bullying occurs without knowing how damaging, how permanent, the results? That’s where we come in. As parents, we have to do a better job of teaching and helping our kids navigate a shifting virtual landscape, where so much of today’s bullying is taking place. We must be ever vigilant, no matter how stressed or exhausted we may be. We must stress and stress again how hurtful it is to laugh at someone, no matter how old we are.
I am first-hand proof of how easy it is to assume we’ve done a good enough job. I’m lucky; my son is now a college freshman but neither of us has forgotten how narrowly we escaped a headline-making tragedy.
Good enough isn’t that good at all.