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.