Bullying is a subject I always have strong feelings about. All three of my kids have been bullied. It just seems to be rampant through our schools anymore — gay kids hounded into suicide, geeks hounded into terrible acts, lonely kids hounded into quiet misery. The mean kids always seem to be popular. I don’t recall this level of bullying when I was a kid, and certainly the cyber-bullying has added a horrible new level of harrassment.
I’ve met some adults who shrug and call it a “rite of passage.” I guess those are the adults who don’t tell their kids bullying is wrong. I wonder how many of those adults bullied when they were kids. You hear mothers saying their child’s bullying is wrong, certainly, but the other kid did some little thing, and they’re not apologizing until he does. Excuses, excuses.
Those people don’t realize how long the emotional effects of that last. Some kids bounce right back, though I doubt they ever trust the same way again. For other kids, it changes their lives forever. They lose all of their friends and never really let down their guard enough to replace them.
My oldest was bullied in high school because of a horrible tragedy, the suicide of her ex-boyfriend. Somehow rumors started that it was her fault. As she walked through the hallways, she was spit on, bumped, and called names. She received insulting, threatening Facebook messages from complete strangers who didn’t know her or the boy. One message someone left on another kid’s wall said, “Rachel just needs to die.” She was told a group of five senior girls (she was a sophomore) were going to jump her. She was yelled at on the bus by a former friend, which was the last time I allowed her to ride the bus throughout her school years. I started driving her, and I carried a baseball bat in my car.
Her friends evaporated. People stopped talking to her in classes. She heard rumors that her own family members were talking crap about her at parties. She was alone in a sea of hostility. I’m still amazed at her strength, the way she kept going to school every day, not letting anyone scare her off her goal.
I think the harrassment stopped in part because of the mother of her ex-boyfriend, an incredibly gracious woman, who told me anyone who threatened my daughter would have to answer to her. His sister was absolutely beautiful. At his funeral, she met my daughter at the front door and walked her to the casket, letting everyone see that she didn’t want my daughter hurt. She stayed in touch with my daughter for a while afterward, even after leaving for college. I still think about this girl with amazement. I wonder what could have happened to my daughter if this sweet girl hadn’t stepped up despite her own pain.
So right now we have a situation in Lee’s Summit that scares me, because I’ve seen how kids can be when they gang up on someone. An eighth-grader brought out a gun to show her two friends. One picked it up and it discharged, shooting the third girl in the head. A horrible, tragic accident. The girl is in a medically induced coma.
This is so horrible for the injured girl and her family, but I’ve thought about the girl who picked up the gun and her family as well. How can she live with herself? The guilt must be crushing.
So I was really saddened yesterday when my son told me the girl was being harrassed and had to take down her Facebook. As if she’s not dealing with enough, she has to have the insensitive comments of people who probably didn’t even know the injured girl, certainly didn’t know her as well as her own friend. What right do they have to even make a comment?
And I wonder, what about the owner of the gun? My dad was a cop, and his gun sat out fully loaded on his dresser when he wasn’t at work. He taught my brothers and I about gun safety — that every gun is considered a loaded gun, even if you took all the bullets out. You never point a gun at another person, even if you’re sure it’s not loaded. He taught us how dangerous a gun is. He told us never to touch it, but that if we were curious, he’d be glad to show it to us safely. We’d sit on the side of his bed and he’d eject all the bullets, counting them, and then he’d point at the floor and pull the trigger six times. And he’d still yell at us not to point it at our siblings. There was never a question that my brothers or I would handle the thing. We respected it and its dangers.
But what about our friends? What if one of my brother’s dumb, impulsive friends had snuck into my parents’ room on the way to the bathroom and picked it up? My mom and I actually discussed this yesterday, and she was a little shocked when she realized how easily what happened here in Lee’s Summit could have happened to us.
When kids get hold of fully loaded guns and someone gets hurt, you don’t blame the dumb kid. You blame the person who should have had the gun locked up in one location and the bullets locked up in another. My dad was not a bad person, yet but for the grace of God, that could have been us.
And when the unimaginable happens, you don’t harrass and bully a kid — a kid — who is already dying inside. Nothing anyone could say to her right now is as bad as what she’s probably saying to herself.
But that doesn’t excuse anyone saying it.
Parents, talk to your kids. Tell them how horrible bullying is. Tell them to stick up for other kids who are being bullied. Tell them how disgusted and disappointed you would be if they ever bullied. This generation has a culture of bullying that scares me. It’s our job as parents to tell them it’s not cool or funny or no big deal. Because they sure aren’t hearing that on YouTube.