Thursday, October 28, 2010

That Kid

Recent news reports have been full of stories of gay teens who have committed suicide after being teased or bullied. Celebrities and others have risen to the occasion with the "it gets better" campaign of youtube videos, encouraging kids to not give up, because it life will get better. I think they are trying to do a good thing--encouraging kids to persevere--but everyone is overlooking something crucial. It's not just gay kids who get teased. And it's not just gay kids who commit suicide. In fact, "suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds" [American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry].
I appreciate the effort to reach out to the gay kids, but there are so many kids--so many people--who need acceptance and love. Let's not focus our lenses too tightly.

We all knew somebody who was "that kid." You remember him (or her); the one who was different. Maybe he talked funny or had body odor. Maybe she was fat or really socially awkward. Maybe he was bigger than everybody else his age, or maybe he was clumsy. Maybe she wore weird clothes. Or maybe it was something else.
And because that kid was different, he got harassed. And sometimes somebody told an adult, and sometimes they didn't. And sometimes the kid got more 'normal' with time, and sometimes they didn't. And sometimes the bullies got in trouble, but often they didn't. And the bullies may have varied from year to year, but oftentimes the kid was the same kid who got picked on day after day and week after week and month after month...

And sometimes, that kid is my kid.

A month ago I started talking with Wolf about what he wanted to dress up as for Halloween. Very early on he made up his mind. We talked and planned and I bought the fabric. I consulted with him multiple times to be sure I was making it 'right' by what he wanted. He wanted to be a "sackperson" (the character from the Little Big Planet video game). We settled on burlap as a good, textured fabric. It was a hassle to cut and sew, but I stuck it out and we ended up with a costume that he loved. Hubby and I both thought it was unlike any other costume we'd ever seen, but hey, so is a sackperson! Wolf was happy with it, and that's what mattered. Wednesday was the school halloween party and costume parade. Wednesday morning he was beaming as he put on his costume before catching the bus to school.
Wednesday afternoon when he got home he threw the crumpled costume into a corner and said no way was he going to wear it to the church party on saturday. Understanding that he was frustrated, Hubby suggested just setting it in the costume box rather than throwing it away in the garbage can. "No dad," Wolf said, "you can't save it for Bear, he would get teased too." Wolf had been teased all day long, taunted with chants of "sackboy, sackboy" ("I was a sackperson mom," he explained), and harrassed with old standbyes like a girl repeatedly stepping on his heels so that his shoes kept coming off as he tried to walk in the parade.
These kids are 5th and 6th graders. I know people often try to excuse elementary schoolers by suggesting that they are too young to know any better, or too immature to filter their actions, but that is bull. These kids are 10-12 years old. They are NOT too young. Just as my son is old enough to not punch them in the face when they harass him, so too they are old enough to be nice to him, even if he's the weird kid.
I'll be honest, Wolf does struggle socially. He is one of those kids who kinda lives in his own world, and he's not very good at reading social cues. He's very bright and very social, but he can be awkward. We have been working with him to help him learn better social skills. He doesn't hit the kids who tease him, and he doesn't harass them back either. He sometimes reports to an adult, but much of the time I think he just takes it, and then comes home and melts down.
My son has a strong support system around him. He has parents who love him and go to bat for him. He has a teacher and a counselor at the school who are his friends and who he trusts and feels safe with, and who help him work through things. He has two little brothers who adore him. Even with all that support, he still suffers when he is treated badly. Anyone would. Bullying is always unacceptable.

This youtube video has been going around facebook this week. It's part of the "It Gets Better" campaign which I mentioned before. Granted, they made it with gay kids in mind, but when I watch it I think of all those kids who are "that kid," including my kid, and including me. Everybody needs love and acceptance.

So let's all grow up a little, shall we? Let's be nice to people, no matter whether we agree with them or even if we like them. There is no excuse for being mean. Ever. And as we are nice to people, let us make sure we are teaching our children to be nice too.


Amy said...

Please tell me that he (or you) reported this. The district is really trying to crack down on bullying this year, and that's just completely and totally unacceptable. :-/

lynnette said...

Hey Jenni, Your post made me cry. I remember the couple years of my life that were like that. Thankfully it did get better...because I'M not sure I could have taken the sort of sustained torture some people endure. Hope things improve soon for 'Wolf'.

Mommy Bee said...

Amy, we have always told him that he should always report to an adult. When he tells us about stuff that happens we always ask who he told. He usually has told someone, but usually reports that "they didn't do anything." I suspect that in some cases he doesn't report in the moment, but waits until later in the day when he sees someone he likes and then tells them--when it's too late to do much (like when he tells us). Last night it was too late for us to do anything, but today we are going in for parent teacher conferences and we will be talking with some people about this.
So yes, he knows he should report it, but we also make an effort to report it too. Because (obviously) I agree, this should not be happening.

Laura--The Balanced Housewife said...

I was bullied as a child too. I was socially behind because I didn't learn to talk until I was 3.5 years old (hearing problems caused by multiple ear infections), so kids made fun of me. I even had teachers make fun of me, and administrators thought I was retarded anyway.

So please folks, combat bullying in general. It's not just the gay kids who get bullied.

Katy said...

I happened upon your blog today and your post has brought tears to my eyes. I was the fat girl and I remember how awful it was. Eventually you start making fun of yourself to take their ammunition away, but it still hurts. Kudos to you for raising a child who will tell you what is going on as well as giving him an amazing support system!

Destiny said...

Bullying is awful. I was that kid all through elementary and junior high so one of my worst fears when having children was that they would have to suffer through what I went through. Luckily, we haven't had any issues with bullying, but I'm always on the lookout.

I hope things get better for your son and that he has or finds some good friends at school his age who will stick up for him.

sara said...

It's just that there isn't a big "club" for bullied kids. There is no organization to get things rolling for them. I have zero patience for bullies - it's lucky my kids go to the school they do because there is almost zero bullying. My girls aren't even aware of any. I would probably be the crazy mom yelling at other kids. I never got picked on much - but I didn't really stick up for other kids when they did. I feel bad for that now, but confidence definitely didn't come with being 12 for me.

Janeen said...

Oh this SO hits home with me. I was the one who talked funny. I had hearing loss in both ears so my speech was off (still is too). And yeah, was thought of as being retarded (though I believe the word now is intellectually disabled). I was bullied. I had kids chasing me around the school yard with baseball bats, kids hiding my book bag and stuff after school so I had to look for it. It was horrible. And I went from having that to being verbally abused by my father when my parents remarried. I can see why kids end up killing themselves and I can see why some strike back too. I had both depression and anger and I have really really crappy self-esteem due to all the years of abuse I went through. And adults aren't much better. I've been asked where I was born (during calls while I was working at an inbound call center) because obviously I don't speak like someone from Wisconsin. I see adults make comments about Ming Ming the duck on Wonder Pets. The bullying needs to end, the MEANNESS needs to end, good grief why are we all so MEAN?! *sigh*

Chandelle said...

Jenni, I appreciate what you're saying here. I was bullied a bit as a kid, and I did some bullying. I hope your boy can find his way in the world. I worry for my children as well, especially my sensitive, gentle son.

But I'd like to explain the reason why so much attention is directed at gay kids right now. Gay kids and young adults are much more likely to commit suicide and easily the most likely to be bullied in school. But the issue is greater than that. Bullying of gay people doesn't end at grade school, high school, or even college. Stereotypes and ill treatment are extended into the rest of their lives, including discriminatory legislation and being barred from employment or housing.

Fat kids, kids with speech impediments, kids who are dyslexic, kids who are multi-racial, kids who are too smart or too slow for everyone else -- these kids grow up and can be expected to live more or less normal lives. Certainly nobody is banding together to vote on whether fat people can get married, or if deaf people can be refused equal housing opportunities. Nobody will tell a kid that lacking sports skill or wearing braces makes them impure, unnatural, unholy, disgusting, or that they should be beaten off physically if they ask someone for a date.

Kids with prosthetic legs or too many freckles are not as likely to be strung up in trees or dragged behind cars; they aren't anywhere near as likely to jump off of bridges or blow their brains out on church steps.

Just recently a school board official posted on Facebook that he supported gay suicide because it was the appropriate course of action for "sin," that he would disown his children if they turned out gay, which would never happen because he was raising them with good Christian morals. This is a grown man, not a child. Would such a statement be made about kids who wear thick glasses, or children who are held back a grade?

It's because of this pervasiveness and the severity of such situations -- and such treatment is not rare, not rare at all -- that the plight of bullied gay kids is given special attention right now. It's a fair question to ask, so hopefully this makes sense.

iceburgindian said...

I really appreciated this post, Jenni. Thanks for sharing.

Mommy Bee said...

I see your point Chandelle, and I do agree with you. The point I was trying to make here is that we should show love and acceptance (a step up from tolerance) for everyone. Of course that includes gays--and in our society they will probably need more of that love for longer than any of the other groups--and I didn't mean to suggest that they wouldn't. I just wanted to raise the issue that 'being nice' should apply to everybody, no matter who, and no matter why, and no matter how long the niceness requires effort.
I hope that makes sense. :)

Katrina said...

I can totally identify with this post, too. I feel so bad your son has had to go through all that and I feel for him because I remember what it was like. He's blessed to have such a good, loving support system that will ultimately be what will help him move past moments (days) like those and become a better, more mature, more empathetic person as a result. But until then, at least he has people he knows he can turn to when his heart hurts so much. Hugs to him.

Valerie said...

Your post touched a chord for me big time. I was picked on so bad in 7th grade that my dad ended up pulling me out of public school and putting me in a private school because no one would do anything about it. I also was reporting the situations to the "right" people. I actually ended up getting suspended from school once because I was the one getting picked on. It was awful. I am fortunate because the private school I went to was run by a lady who knew what had happened and was good about helping me get my self confidence back. When I finally did have to go back to public school I went back knowing better how to handle the situation. I like to think that because of what happened to me I am a nicer more tolerant person to all sorts of people. I hope your son has an easier time getting through to his school and the powers that be there. He is lucky to have you and your husband who are willing to go to bat for him. I think that makes all the difference, I know it made a difference in my situation. I know the uphill battle you are fighting because what happened to me happened here in Homer as well. Good luck

Anonymous said...

Everyone who has jumped in here, I think is a woman.

Well, let's mix it up a little.

I was a socially ackward boy and got plenty of being picked on, but I'm ashamed to say occasionally I got to do it too. It seems to be natural to make a hierarchy and some are on the bottom.

In short, we all ought to try to be the best unique person we can, and stop envying those above us and desperately looking for someone below us to look down upon.

Just modulating our external behavior isn't enough by the way. We should try to manage our attitudes. Sometimes even if we don't act out bad attitudes are still felt.

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