I’ve been thinking of starting a blog for some time, but hadn’t gotten around to it — or found the motivation — until now. Another teen suicide because of bullying. Another gay teen dead. Each child lost, gay or not, moves me to tears. There but for the grace of G*d go I.
The most recent, Jamie Hubley of Ottawa, had a public blog , “You can’t break… When you’re already broken” in which he said his good-byes. While these are just words on a screen, with all of the techno- and teen-speak you’d expect from someone his age, Jamie’s pain is palpable. Read some of it. You’d have to be the Tin Man to not be moved by this young man’s words. He knew what he felt and just how deeply, terribly deeply, he felt it — he just didn’t know how to fix it. What kid does, really?
So, now what do we do? Yes, WE. No, I didn’t know Jamie, I didn’t go to or work at his school or live in his neighborhood, but these kids are everyone and I’ve not been vocal enough or found some way to reach out, to pitch in. I meant to (honest). Jamie’s case, with his public pain and “f**k you” that could only carry him so far, only project him for so long, has moved me to action, reflection, a bit of confession and a plea.
We can hold vigils each time another child kills her/himself, we can cry out to make the bullies pay–“make an example of them!”–and talk about needing training and counseling at school and parental responsibility at home. These are all great ideas and, yes, necessary. But, they also take a great deal of what so many cities, towns and school districts don’t have right now — money, consensus and political will. Making all of these planets align, however, takes time…and, as we’ve seen too frequently lately, many of these kids do not have time. The tools have at our disposal right now, however, are very powerful when shared, cost nothing and are things that used to come naturally to most of us when we were tiny:
- Treat others as you want to be treated, No one said we all have to like or agree with each other, but we can be kind, tolerant–decent–human beings. If you’re having a bad day or feeling “off” for some reason, for example, take a breather; don’t take it out on someone else. I’m as guilty of this as anyone (yes, confession forthcoming). As a junior high kid, I was picked on mercilessly for being gay. I felt like Jamie. My response? Treat myself badly, again, not unlike Jamie. But I also turned the pain and anger that I couldn’t handle on someone over whom I had some power – my younger brother. He suffered through many smack-downs, insults and, well, bullying, from me and still kept quiet. I’m sure this is, at least in part, why we’re not close today. I can’t take it back. If I could, I would. If one person reads this and thinks, “man, I’m really miserable. I’m going to go turn up the music.” and doesn’t hit their kid sister (or kid!) or harass some small kid on the street, then that’s some small consolation.
- Own your feelings. As corny as it sounds, saying how you feel (yeah, it’s really okay to start with ‘I’) instead of telling someone how they make you feel can go a long way. And, sometimes keep things from escalating and people from acting out against bystanders, family or friends…or acquaintences who are guilty of nothing except maybe proximity and/or being a little different.
- Speak up! If you see someone being bullied, picked on, harassed, and it’s safe to do so, say something. If it’s not safe to do so, tell someone — I think hate and misery are probably two of a very small number of things that actually do grow in a vacuum.
- Adults – don’t ignore kids’ problems, don’t minimize them and don’t try to pretend them away because they make you uncomfortable. Don’t ask a harassed kid: “It’s not true, right?” I heard that and, wow, it can make a kid’s head spin. Instead, ask if you can help or tell them that you’re there if they need them (and mean it!). If a kid’s picking on or making fun of someone, try to find out why. Are they upset about something or feeling insecure or…worse? Maybe you can help them feel better and stop their behavior. How great would that be?
- Set an example for kids – behave like you want them to behave. Treat people with respect, especially your kids, but even strangers. Your child seem upset? Check in on them. Reach out. Your neighbor with the three kids seeming kind of stressed, snapping at the kids? Say something nice; maybe reassure them a little if you can. Be kind and respectful to your kids’ friends, even the “quirky” ones.
- Don’t dismiss a child’s pain or assume that it’ll just make them stronger. Think about it…we, as adults, have strategies for coping with stress, anxiety, anger…we’ve had years to develop these strategies. Teens and children haven’t, and add developing brains and hormones to the mix and little-seeming things can be overwhelming. Plus, we’re all wired differently. There’s no guarantee that misery will toughen a child up. Why take the risk?
- Reach out to a new kid in school or a new person in the office. One person’s kindness can be contagious.
There’s so much talk about kids being the future, but what kind of future will they have — how can they lead us someday — it if we’re failing so many of them right now? Yes, there should be diversity and sensitivity programs in schools, after-school centers — and for adults too — and, yes, there should more support structures for all kids in the schools and in the communities. In the meantime, though, we can each take the small steps above, which, if I’m not mistaken, used to be the norm — part of being a decent, polite, civilized human being — and we can help our kids now. Maybe one at a time. But, if we each reach one….how many is that? And, if any one of them “pays it forward,” how many more is that? Who know, too, if more of us start behaving like this and taking care of each other, if the culture might shift and the political will might materialize more quickly?
Do it for your kid. Do it for your grandchild. Do it for that child you see on the bus alone every day. Do it for your 13-year-old self (or for the sibling you were anything but kind to). Do it for Jamie and for the family and friends he left behind.