I write a lot of things. I share many but not all. I’m a writer. As an author, I imagined my website to be about writing. My process, my fails, my gains. I want to share more about publishing. But the past six months of my writing time has been spent fighting the same fight we’ve fought each school year. I research laws. I research girl power. I research how to build self-confidence in children. I try to build up other parents going through the same challenges we are. I try to tell as many children as I can how much they matter. To me, to my daughter, to their families, to this fight.
Yesterday I learned someone stopped fighting.
My heart is broken again.
We are going on six years now of my oldest daughter dealing with cruelty on school grounds. Threats, teasing, unkind words, gossip, violence against her, complete intolerance of who she is, and schools turning heads, forcing changes upon innocent children instead of pushing real consequences to offenders. It’s a non-stop circle. And I know, as I’ve known for years, we are not the only ones going through this.
I learned yesterday of a young boy in a different state. His parents will be burying him soon. I sat at my window a looked at the spring snow falling from the Colorado sky and wondered if the storm hovering over my roof would be over theirs on the day they bury their son. Would they have rain? Would they have snow? Would dark skies cover their world, matching the feelings of their sunken hearts? I don’t know this boy. I don’t know his parents. But I breathe for all of them today. I stood in my daughter’s bedroom last night and touched her forehead. I rubbed scar she is teased about. I felt the warmth of her skin. I watched her chest rise and fall with each breath she took. Gratitude washed over me. She is two years younger than this boy.
Outside appearances tell me this boy came from a loving family. He was a good looking young man. He played sports. All the comments I see about him are kind. He was liked. He was loved. I can’t ever expect to know any more about him. But I can believe no one who mattered to him wanted to live days like today; waking without him. Missing his morning routine. His morning grumbles about getting up and moving. His morning smiles. Maybe he was a joker, making members of his family laugh during breakfast. Maybe he was like my daughter, silly, dancing whenever he felt movement enter his body. I wonder if the kids at his school all cried. I wondered if some laughed. I wondered if the cruel people in his community, even if they are few, knew how difficult they made his life. Do they know today the words they spoke to him, to lift themselves up for a brief moment, to get a laugh from others, to bring him down, are the same words which killed him? Will they think twice before speaking cruel words to someone else?
I ask in his honor, today, you remind your children, yourself, your friends and family to be kind. It isn’t hard at all. Keep the mean thoughts you have for someone to yourself. Better yet, ask yourself why you feel they need to hear why you think they aren’t worth walking on Earth any more than you do. My daughter hears things like, “You suck because you’re short.” “You have Ebola.” “Ewww, gross, it’s you.” “You know you don’t belong here….in this class, in this school, in this world. You know that don’t you?” Those are just a small sampling of things she’s heard, things she hears every day. Class after class. Many days, several times a day.
How many years does a child need to hear these things? A recent bus chant about my daughter involved several children replying to one boy saying her name and the word ‘likes.’ The other children would then reply to him with words like penises, vaginas, butt holes. For twenty minutes on the bus, she had to listen to several kids chat things about her that were not only untrue but also vulgar. There were also several kids on the bus who said nothing. Kids who didn’t participant in the chant but who also didn’t speak up to tell others to stop being cruel.
How much can one child endure? As I rub the scar on my daughter’s head, I will away her pain. I pray she will come home from school the next day with the strength to do it all again. Each day she comes home sad because of what children are saying about her, to her. I try to remind her of how wonderful I know she is. I try to pull her thoughts into a place where she is reminded of our love for her. Reminded of her friends. She does have them. She’s in a good little group of kids who love her and support her. They laugh with her, they appreciate her silly antics. They don’t have fear of being who they are. And many of them have their own stories of not being accepted by others. I’m happy she has that. I’m certain most children who are bullied have friends. I’m sure they have families who love them. What they don’t often have is that light at the end of the tunnel. I often don’t see that light myself. As an adult, I know my daughter can get through this. I know these kids won’t matter in her life when she’s in college. When she’s an adult working on her career, having a family, loving her own children. But I also know the pain she feels each day will be with her. Always. The hurtful words, the unnecessary teasing, the feelings of being not worthy of living, the reminders that she was not only disliked, but truly hated for no reason will live in her heart and in her mind forever. As parents, we can support, love, offer ideas and reminders, and hope our children will always be here to fight another day.
This boy I know about gave up his fight this week.
I also know of a girl in our own community who gave up her fight this school year. She was my daughter’s age.
Every day my inbox is filled with the pain of others. Parents asking the world to support their children via social media. Many of the stories are eerily familiar. Earlier this week, I read about a girl who had switched schools once already, was smaller than her peers, had red hair and freckles, and was teased relentlessly with both schools doing nothing. One school’s response was that it was not gbullying she was dealing with, it was just kids being kids. Kids being mean.
When did boys will be boys and kids being kids begin to mean simply deal with it, they aren’t bullying, they are simply being mean. When did meanness become acceptable in an environment such as school where adults are abundant? Which adults are accepting simply being mean as something our children should endure? I wouldn’t allow someone to be mean within my own home. I wouldn’t have to tolerate it if I were in a grocery store or at a public park. Why do our children have to endure kids who are mean? Why aren’t the adults surrounding these children teaching expectations of kindness? Why aren’t schools following the same social expectations we expect within our communities? Within our homes?
I’ve researched several states and their Boards of Education websites lately. I live in the state of Colorado. The state site basically lays out the definition of bullying and supplies the ACT the state wrote offering grants to districts who apply for anti-bullying education. I’m not a lawyer, but what I read I understood to mean the district must apply, and to be granted, they must have valid and good reason to apply. With or without the anti-bullying grant money, the districts need to form policies which follow the law of ensuring schools don’t allow bullying as defined by the law. I’ve gone around in circles reading this, and as a parent, an author, a non-lawyer, I took it all to mean the state has defined bullying and expects districts to not allow bullying within their schools. Districts then take the definition of bullying and expect their schools to create a school-wide policy and procedure as it pertains to the state’s definition of bullying. The buck is passed from state to district to school. Meaning, each school is responsible for how seriously they will take this serious problem within our schools across our nation. One school may include anti-bullying within their curriculum. One school may only react to each case as they arise. One school may have high expectations, one may not. It seems to be luck of the draw. Within the state and within the district. Other state sites, like Hawaii and New Jersey, seem to have a better display, at least, of their expectations as well as resources for parents and for children. I believe both of these state also include specific bullying such as LGBT students. New Jersey has a detailed plan, a task force, case studies, and more available to the public on their site. Arizona has expectations, laws, and student/parent resources listed on their Department of Education website. New Jersey and Arizona are the most inclusive state sites I’ve seen. I’ve also found at least two districts within Arizona who include anti-bullying as a curriculum within classrooms.
I understand why each state is a bit different. It’s one of the great things about our country. I may even begin to understand why districts might differ. Cultures across a state might differ, but the expectations should always remain the same. This starts with people. What I fail to understand is why school policies might differ within a district. Why would one school tolerate something another school mere miles away works very hard to prevent?
It comes down to people. The responsible adults we leave in charge of our children while we are away. The adults who need to begin teaching simple values which may not be taught at home. I hate to put parenting in charge of teachers and staff at schools. I’ve said for years the one thing we cannot control is how people parent their children.
We don’t need to teach all values at school. One family may have different values they’d like their children to follow and practice in their lives. But basic kindness shouldn’t have to be taught with ferocity at a middle school age. These are the kids who have been taught basic kindness. They know what is right and what is wrong. They know saying cruel things about someone or to someone is wrong. They are at an age where making the correct choice isn’t always easy for them. This is where they need the guidance most. These kids need to understand how their cruel behaviors affect children, their peers, for years to come.
Years many kids don’t even get to face. I started this out by talking about this beautiful young soul who took his life earlier this week. The pressures of unkindness were too much for him. It is often too much for many. My own daughter has been told she doesn’t belong…not only in her classroom, where she is legally welcome but also in this world according to this girl who greets my daughter each day with this sentiment. How many more times before my daughter begins to believe it? How many times, days, weeks, or years did this young man have to listen to words like that before he no longer believed he belonged anywhere?
Don’t give up.
Be the reason someone smiles today.
Be a reason someone is reminded they are wonderful.