[note: this is something I wrote a few months ago, when all this was in the news. It was intended for a specific audience and, for whatever reason, was never used. I ran across it and I decided that it was still worth sharing somewhere.]
I imagine many of you have seen recent news stories on teenagers committing suicide after having been bullied by schoolmates, one in nearby Spring. This has been weighing on my mind quite a lot. The current focus of the stories have been teens who are gay or are perceived to be gay (which makes it especially personal for me), but everyone knows there are a number of reasons bullies choose their targets. Weight, academic achievement, religion, economic status, fashion choices . . . these are just the ones that come to mind at the moment.
As a nerdy, fat, goody-two-shoes, sissy boy growing up rural Texas, you might assume I was a target of some bullying. The potential was certainly there, but when I read of what some kids are enduring (or not) these days, I cannot say I was seriously bullied. What I endured might be better categorized as being "picked on" now and then, but I was never the victim of physical violence and the verbal abuse was comparatively mild. No one ever told me I should go hang myself.
When I think back on why getting picked on never escalated to anything more serious, I can come up with only one answer: the adults in my life. The teachers at school, the adults at church, my parents and extended family—they didn't put up with the meanness that lies behind bullying. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I do not recall anyone really being bullied in my schools as I grew up. There were popular kids and unpopular kids, but not blatant abuse. It was a wonderfully safe place to grow up.
What breaks my heart most of all about the recent suicides is that these teenagers felt as if there were absolutely no adults they could turn to for protection. This is inconceivable to me. Had things gotten out of hand for me, there were any number of adults around I could have turned to for help. How do these teens not feel the same?
I have no children and only limited interaction with children. Since these recent news stories, however, I find myself paying more attention to the few kids around me, whether at church or in the store where I work or on the bus. I find myself listening to their language, how they treat one another as well as how they're treated. Kids should feel like there are adults around them who care and will protect them. If I ever hear something that is outright threatening, I pray that I have the courage to say something and the wisdom to say the right thing.
I ask that you, too, pay attention to the children and teens around you and step in if things are getting out of hand.
There is a YouTube video series from adults who were bullied as kids, telling kids that "It Gets Better." These are messages of hope and I applaud them. I also believe that kids shouldn't have to wait for it to get better. My encouragement for all adults is that we make it better. If a nerdy, fat, goody-two-shoes, sissy boy growing up in rural Texas can have a safe childhood thanks to the adults around him, surely every child can have one, too. The key to that sentence, however, is "the adults around." Let's be the adults around.