Like many of you, the news of the now five recent teen suicides has been heavy on my mind lately. The night that 13-year old Seth Walsh died, I lay in bed for hours trying to sleep, unable to stop my mind from going back to that boy and his family. 13 years old. 8th grade.
I don't need to explain how horribly unfair it is...that these kids suffer SO MUCH that they are finding the ability to put guns to their heads and pull the trigger. Or to hang themselves by a rope and let go. That those acts, which are some of the most terrifying things I can imagine, are easier for them than going to school. I think everyone I know and have talked to agrees with that. This isn't a split issue, and if you think it is, then please, seek help, because you are seriously messed up inside.
My initial thought was "What would happen if that was my child?" I'm sure most of us thought that as well. To imagine your child being bullied like that...these precious children that we try so hard to protect from every hurt. It's hard to fathom what that must feel like.
My next thought was "What if my child was the bully?"
That really made me think...What does it feel like for THOSE parents? I don't necessarily think that they must be horrible people who taught their children to be hateful on purpose. I know firsthand that kids, even kids with great parents, can be cruel. I'm sure there are some kids, however, who are learning some of this behavior at home. I'm not really sure how to picture it. Do these parents openly TELL their children that being gay is wrong, or weird...something to be teased for? Or do they make the subject so taboo that kids interpret it as "strange"? Why isn't it changing yet? Are there parents out there who PURPOSELY teach their children to hate? If not there, then where is it coming from?
I wonder if the parents feel torn between guilt over what's happened and defending their child, who is inevitably the villain in these scenarios. I would imagine so...of course, you love your child, but how do you come to terms with the fact that another life is lost, in part because of their actions. Are any of them in denial that it's partially their fault?
I personally think that bullies, for the most part, have low self esteem. They do it to make themselves feel better, to take on a position of power against someone else. If you suspected your child of being a bully at school...what would you do?
I could sit here all day and wonder, but it won't help. There are tons of questions, but no real answers. All I can do is try to help...we can all do that. As parents, or future parents, it is our responsibility to instill in them that teasing is never okay. These children that are dying are OUR children. The bullying is starting somewhere, and I hate to point fingers, but seriously, who better to prepare our kids than us? If we're not sitting down and having conversations with our children and using words like "different", "compassion", and "equal", then we need to start, now.
My kids will never grow up thinking that there is anything wrong with "gay". With wearing what they want, walking the way that comes naturally to them, speaking in their given voice, loving whomever they choose, with being their genuine selves, and nothing more. They WILL however, grow up KNOWING that it is wrong to belittle, to tease, to call names, to cyber-bully, to prank people who seem different than they are.
Some of us parents have no idea which category our kids will fall into, if any. We may be raising the bully. We may be raising the victim. HOW SCARY IS THAT? How awe-inspiring is it that we can change it?
I URGE my fellow parents and future parents to talk to your children. Don't treat homosexuality like some awful secret or something to be feared. Even if your religious beliefs lead you to believe it's "wrong", don't ever, ever, ever use that as an excuse to allow disrespect to their peers. This conversation will also open the door for them to come to you if they ever feel they themselves have questions about their own sexuality. Some of these kids become victims because they are afraid that thier parents won't support them, so they don't ask for help.
It's not being gay that's killing childen...it's the shame that they feel keeping it secret.
Wouldn't you rather have open honesty with your child than force them to hide something that could lead to their ultimate self destruction? I think that, for me, that would feel like nothing more than absolutely failing my child.
Here's what I propose. Although it feels like there isn't a lot we can do about this problem, the answer is staring us in the face, every day...(literally). Our kids.
Make the decision to be a proactive parent. Don't wait until there's a problem, and their school is calling you, to talk to them about bullying. I ask you to (yeah, I totally stole this from Oprah) to pledge to talk to your kids. If you don't have them yet, pledge to do it when the time comes. Open the door to the conversation and never close that door.
Print the Pledge. Sign it. Do a self portrait with it, post it, share it, be an example.
Please? It might seem silly. If there's even a chance that we can help each other remember to teach our children how to treat one another, then I'll risk looking silly. This is what we signed up for when we decided to raise the future.
Click here to find the Pledge on Facebook.