It has taken on a horrifically familiar ring. Young kids so distraught and desperate, so sad and ashamed, feeling so alone and defenseless, taking their lives as a result of bullying. It seems each day details of this tragedy, and the events that led up to it play out in the press, online media, and on TV. We weep for the lost young souls. We pray that the agony of the parents will ease, eventually. And as quickly as we’ve read the article, or watched the 3 minute news story, we move on with our lives. Therein lies the problem. Because while you may not be directly affected by the loss of another tortured life your responsibility as a parent, guardian, mentor, spiritual leader or teacher must take on a heightened sense of urgency. We must ask ourselves: “How much do we really know about our children’s lives”?
Bullying does not always present itself overtly. Some kids do not come home bruised and injured. In today’s highly advanced information age it is easy for children to get sucked into the online bullying vortex, where telltale signs are not as obvious. The web is a veritable black hole of uncensored, unsupervised blogs, exploitive chat rooms, countless social media and online entertainment sites. Our children are vulnerable to abusers who hide behind keyboards and screen names. The predators are ruthless and the damage takes a toll mentally. Bullies infiltrate these cyber domains knowing their victims are ripe for the picking and scared and convinced no one will understand or can help. Their only recourse is to escape. They seek deliverance from their persecutors in death; an eternal sleep that ends the nightmares. There was a time when little ones had a bad dream, Mom and Dad would rush to the bedside and soothe the monsters away. We talked about what may have prompted the nocturnal invaders and offered advice on how they could protect themselves against future nighttime sieges. Where are the responsible adults, when the nightmare is taking place outside the bedroom? Of course, no one wants to pass judgment on the families of those sadly departed. Truth of the matter is we live in uncertain times. The economy is struggling; unemployment continues to affect millions of families. Single parent households are all too common. Most of us are cash strapped and short on time and patience. Not to mention, children who don’t complain or speak out, who just shut the door and remain quiet and “out of the way” appear to make life much easier. One less thing to worry about. They are distracted, so we can tackle other issues. Thing is, there is no issue more important than the welfare of children.
Many parents want to encourage a child’s independence. They think respecting their privacy is the key to earning their trust. Staying out of their business will make them think we are “cool”. All the while, they are missing the signs. Parents are deaf to the cries for help. Withdrawn does not mean well behaved. Sad is not always just about “hormones”. Persistent stress or illness is not always hypochondria. And in the case of the bully, aggression, ego, and bravado are not always indicative of “confidence”. Sometimes, things are exactly as they seem. The untimely death of children remains an urgent wake-up call. The answer? Get involved in your child’s life. Ask questions. Have a conversation. Inspect the laptops and personal computers in the house for signs of danger. No matter how liberal and free-spirited you want to be, one fact remains: a parent or guardian’s job is to protect their child. That is first and foremost and non-negotiable. We are not here to be their friend, we are here to be a parent and caregiver. We need to set boundaries, establish a foundation of values, influence confidence, encourage mental, spiritual and physical development. At no time in their life should a child feel completely alone.
If you are the parent of a child suspected of being a bully, you must intervene. Find out the root of their aggression. Explain the potential consequences of their actions. Be direct and firm as you tell them bullying is unacceptable and will be dealt with severely. Show them the faces of the victims of bullying. Make it real and tangible. Teach them compassion, social decency, and responsibility.
The next time you read an article or see a news story on another suicide as a result of bullying (And I pray we do not), take it as a cue to connect with your children. Your prompt attention could save an innocent life.
5 Ways You Can Remain an Important Part of Your Child’s Life:
1. Set aside one night a week just for you and your child (children). No TV (unless you choose to watch a movie or play video games), no cell phones, no computer. This can be a date night at a favorite restaurant where informal conversation can flow and you can share some of your stories about the challenges you faced growing up. Or just hang out at home and talk about the day. It doesn’t matter if it is for one hour or five hours. As long as you connect it will be time well spent
2. Let your children know they can talk to you about anything. Nothing should be off limits. Explain that while you may not always agree with what they may have done, that should not discourage them from confiding in you. If they are not comfortable with that, choose a willing, responsible adult that everyone in the family trusts and make that person the designated go-to confidant with the understanding that at some point, Mom and Dad will have to become involved. Sometimes an objective third party can be the bridge that connects parent and child.
3. Learn to communicate with them on their level. Familiarize yourself with texting, instant messaging, FaceBook and Twitter. If you understand how kids relate to each other you can engage them a lot easier.
4. Visit your child at school or at the playground. Stop by just to say hi and check in. Support Parent/Teacher engagements whenever possible and attend sporting events. When bullies see a child has people in his or her life that cares, and wants to protect them, they will be less inclined to strike.
5. If your child seems withdrawn, sad, aggressive or brutal, act immediately. Give them the attention they need. Don’t judge them. Be firm as well loving. Talk to their teachers, coaches, and friends to get the inside scoop on what may be bothering them. Seek professional help if necessary. School guidance counselors, psychotherapists, social workers; don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help for your child.
Bottom line: Remain vigilant. Stay aware, stay involved, stay committed; love and protect your children. Don’t give in to the “Not my child syndrome”. This CAN happen to anyone. Do your best to make sure your family is not destroyed by senseless tragedy.