Happy New Year…I only wish my heart was happy as I write these words this morning. The title of this blog literally pulled me up from bed, begging to be written, so here goes.
We see them on the news every day, we see them on social media every time we look at our handheld devices. Headlines: “X-year-old boy hangs himself, X year old girl found hanging in her closet” “X-year-old teen dies from self-inflicted injuries”. The headlines are not the problem though, read a few lines down and you will see them, the unmistakable words “after years or months or even weeks of being bullied” BEING BULLIED? by whom you ask yourself, then it never fails, the words, by his or her peers follows every time, and I am sick of it!
I am sick of the fact that small children are now more pre-occupied with bullying each other than playing in the sandbox or with their X-Box. Even when they do play in said sandbox or on the X-Box, they are bullying each other. They are teasing each other, they are making fun of each other, and not in a nice way, in the worst possible ways, saying the worst possible things to themselves. I often speak of how another 12-year-old child once told my then 12-year-old son “when God made you, He left you too long in the oven and you got burned” referring to his skin color. How does a 12-year-old come up with those words? Sadly, the vocabulary is now even worse, they have now progressed to calling names like “bitch” and “slut” and phrases like “go kill yourself”, and “die now” as in the case of McKenzie Adams, a 9-year-old child from Alabama who hung herself in her closet last December after months of bullying by other 9-year-olds. 9-year-olds? What do they know? How did they come up with so much meanness and hatred in their hearts and mouths and fingers? Where will a 9-year-old child find such racist statements as those that were repeatedly uttered to this poor little girl? Where are their parents when all of this is happening? Who are these people?
As if that were not bad enough, just yesterday, the news broke about little Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old boy who not only had a medical condition that required him to wear a colostomy bag (and need multiple surgeries to live) about which he was repeatedly teased, he was allegedly called the N-word and “choked” on the bus by his “bus-buddy” for simply being himself. Where do I start? Who are these 10-year-olds and who are their parents and family members? What examples are we setting for them? How are we handling our home environments? Where are they learning this hatred from? What exactly is going on in our homes, in their heads, in their hearts?
It is easy to blame the teachers and counselors and the school system for not “checking the bullying at school”, but what about at home? What is happening there? Are we as parents now simply having children and leaving them to be raised by others? As a part of the village it takes to raise children, I must say, it is not my primary responsibility to raise yours for you, just as it is not yours to raise mine. We MUST as parents, stop and retrace our steps. We MUST accept our own responsibilities and accept the roles we are playing or not playing when it comes to raising our kids right. We MUST accept our own fair share of blame and then, maybe, we can seek to rectify. We MUST as a matter of urgency resist the urge to play the blame game. Enough already.
Earlier this week, the news broke about the suicide streak in Australian teen girls, a total of 5 girls aged 12-15 years have taken their lives since the beginning of this year, 2019. Blaming everything from child abuse and neglect, to sexual abuse, to poverty and even poor governance, nowhere does this article mention bullying, however, Rochelle Pryor’s last Facebook post clearly stated: “once I’m gone, the bullying and racism will stop”. This shows that even when reported, the news can sometimes be skewed, further compounding the problem and delaying any solutions.
As a pediatrician, child advocate and teen expert, the least I can do is join my voice with others trying to make a difference, to put an end to bullying by our children, at school, at home, at work, and wherever else it might be. Here are five (5) things every parent must do, today, now, in order to help in the fight to end suicide from bullying.
TALK to yourself. Start at home. Check your life. It is the mirror through which your children look at life. How are you living it? What kind of language are you using when you refer to people of other races, or other convictions different from yours? Is there some domestic violence or abuse going on in the home? Is there name calling? Are you putting yourselves down in front of your children? Do you argue a lot? Should you be in counseling? Do you speak to your children about what they should not be doing or saying in school? Do you even know your children and who they hang out with at school or at play? We must realize that if our kids are the bullies, it might not all be their faults. They might be needing some love, we might be needing to change the way we are doing things at home. They might need counseling or therapy. I recommend we watch this 2006 movie about 5th graders called “how to eat fried worms“, it touches on bullying at home and some of its consequences.
TALK to your children. We are going to have to tackle these questions head-on. Ask them the question directly, “are you a bully at school, on the bus, at the playground, on the internet, in your group chat?” Explain in the simplest terms what you mean by those words. My youngest son was a member of a group chat where some name-calling was going on one time, I saw it when I looked through his phone. I addressed it, made him report it to the school authorities, and he lost his phone privileges. He had not participated in the name-calling, but he had said nothing in the child’s defense either. 70% of children are bystanders when bullying is going on. The child being picked on in the group chat has Tourette’s syndrome, a disability he cannot help. And my child’s behavior was not good enough for me. Ask your child if he or she is bullied, or if they are bystanders when bullying is going on. Ask them what they do if or when they observe bullying going on. Now, if your child is neither the victim nor the bystander, maybe he or she is the bully. Go through your child’s room and their things, see if they happen to have stuff that does not belong to them. This might be a sign.
TALK to their friends. This means we have to know their friends, and better yet, their friends’ parents. When my youngest son David, 14, had some issues with bullying at school, (he was having a hard time transitioning after his two brothers went off to college) one of his friends’ had told his mom, who in turn told me. He had taken someone else’s lunch and eaten it, and lied about it, among other things. Ask their friends directly if they are bullies, or if they know any bullies in the neighborhood, or if they themselves are bullies. We must be seen as part of the community when it comes to raising our children. I had to have a chit-chat with David’s friends a few weeks ago after I overheard him say to David, “if you don’t come out and play ball with me, then you are gay”. I was like, “what?” Apparently, the kid had wanted to play ball with him but David had made an excuse about having to finish up his homework and needed a rain check. After a little tet-a-tet with the young lad, we fist-bumped and I went along my way, content that at least for that moment, I had stopped that line of thinking.
TALK to the school. Yes, of course, the school is the extension of the home. After taking care of the home front, we must engage the school. Most of the parents of these children we read about had frequent engagements with their kids’ schools. We have to ensure that the school sees us as a present parent. You must be all about your child’s business. Get to know your child’s teachers, get to know the counselors. Get to know their coaches, their dance instructors, their tutors. Anyone who imparts any kind of knowledge on your child you should get to know. Believe me, that will make a huge difference in the end. Imagine your child was about to bully someone, the fact that they know – you know their teachers so well will put a bit of a hindrance on that tendency. Furthermore, the teachers will be your second set of eyes and ears when it comes to guidance and assistance with your child. Having an alliance with your child’s teacher can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, we hear lots of stories of how the schools in some cases claim they had no idea any bullying was going on. Like the case of 8-year-old Gabriel who was knocked out in the school bathroom by bullies a few days before he hung himself.
TALK to a healthcare provider. If you do find out that your child is the bully (and believe me, this happened to me) Talk to someone. Talk to someone right away. Get them counseling. That made a huge difference in my child. It helped us realize and understand the reasons behind his actions. There are licensed therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians like me waiting to help you and your child. I understand that we never want to believe our children are capable of such horrific acts we read about in the news, but, they are. We have to change our mindset about that. We must do the needful and help them because the bully often resorts to that behavior as a result of their own inside pain and stress and trauma and insecurities. They too sometimes may have been a victim and as such, need some love and understanding and care. Let us remember that babies are born, innocent, then life happens. We do not of all things want to be the parent of the child who was in any way responsible for the death of another. So, pick up the phone, make that appointment and speak to a healthcare provider about your child, the bully, you’d be glad you did.
An edited and truncated version of this blog was accepted as a guest blog post on Successful Black Parenting Magazine, check it out here.