Bullying and intolerance can kill. It’s as simple as that.
In recent weeks, seven young teenage boys have committed suicide due to homophobic bullying and harassment, both in their homes and in their schools. This rash of suicides has brought the issue of school bullying into the spotlight, leaving many to wonder what can be done to stop the thoughtless acts that can drive young adults to such feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Sadly, this is not a new problem in any way, only one which is at last receiving a modicum of the media attention it deserves. As reported in The Huffington Post, research has shown that suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents 15 to 24 years old, and gay teenagers are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt to kill themselves. These are sobering statistics of which all parents need to be aware – and teachers need to learn not just how to spot bullying and harassment when it is happening, but how not to contribute to it themselves.
Children can be targeted for any way in which they are perceived to be “different” from their peers. Their sexuality, their race, their weight, their social status – even just the way they dress and act. A sad example of the last has caused a concerned mother to create the Facebook campaign “Words CAN Always Hurt Me: Teach me, Don’t Judge me” after her daughter faced criticism from her homeroom teacher over her appearance and clothing. As described on the Facebook page:
“My 11 year old daughter is a tomboy. A skater girl. A wonderful, empathetic child. Her Homeroom teacher gave her a candy and told her she needs to ‘dress and act more feminine.’
SERIOUSLY! My daughter is of course accustomed to being teased by other children. And we, her parents and family, reinforce that she is wonderful just the way she is. The words of this teacher HURT HER, EMBARRASSED HER, and made her feel uncomfortable in school.”
That any teacher should think such remarks are appropriate is a tragedy. How can children learn tolerance and to accept differences when even the hard work of their parents at home can be undermined by teachers such as this one? Bullying will only continue and worsen, if teachers don’t work with parents, and not against them, in promoting equality and acceptance.
The founder of the “Words CAN Always Hurt Me: Teach me, Don’t Judge me” campaign is urging all parents to print out the story of what happened to her daughter and show it to their own children’s teachers, principals, and schools. Because it’s time to open the discussion on bullying and abuse everywhere, before more children are made to feel bad for who they are – and before more of our children kill themselves because of it.
* 7 Gay Suicides Memorial Day – Facebook.
* “Words CAN Always Hurt Me: Teach me, Don’t Judge me” – Facebook
* Combating Gay Teen Suicide: What Parents Can Do – The Huffington Post, October 14, 2010.