The “Faith-filled Family” column has a new name. This column is now “A Catholic Mom Speaks.” So that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing, and I’m starting by speaking about something weighing on my mind.
In the past year, I have heard story after story—in the news, from friends and families and even at my own dinner table—about kids being bullied. It’s rampant. It’s everywhere. As we’ve unfortunately witnessed time and time again, it can be deadly.
And it needs to stop.
I know, I know. Bullying has gone on for years. I’m sure most of us can recount a story of it from our youth. There are even debates as to whether the media are jumping on the recent rash of suicides brought on by bullying and overblowing the concept of kids being “bullied to death.”
But things are different now. And, on the off-chance that things aren’t being overblown, I’m going to say something. The explosion of instant communication—cell phones, the Internet and the whole world of social media—has opened up a whole new arena in which bullies can play.
Regardless if it’s being overly hyped or not, Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg and many other young people obviously thought what was happening to them was bad enough to make them take their own lives.
A Parent’s Role
Some of the earliest lessons we parents try to teach our kids are to play nice, be kind to others and use manners. So where do things get off course?
Most parenting experts will say that you can tell kids things till you’re blue in the face. What will most likely stick with them, though, is not what you say, but what you show them through your own actions.
Rachel Simmons, cofounder of the Girls Leadership Institute and author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl, has been studying bullying, writing about it and working with schools and families around the country for over a decade.
In the article “The Nine Most Common Myths About Bullying” posted on www.Newsweek.com, Simmons says, “In fact, it’s parents who can be the biggest bullies of all….Parents replicate the same nerve-racking hierarchies they are so quick to condemn on the playground. They exclude children and parents from parties, playdates and coffee, or publicly gossip about other people’s children. Until parents hold themselves to the same standards we impose on our kids, real change will be impossible.”
She’s right. We parents are guilty of contributing to this problem every time we fail to speak up, pass on the latest gossip, degrade others when they fail to see things our way or pass uninformed judgments. We do it in our homes, at work, on the playing fields, in schools and even in our church—all in plain sight of our kids. We rattle off catchphrases like “What would Jesus do?” and then fail to do it.
In the case of Phoebe Prince, the district attorney said teachers witnessed Phoebe being bullied, but said nothing until after her death.
In 2006, Megan Meier committed suicide by hanging herself three weeks before her 14th birthday. Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s friends with whom she had a fallingout, was later charged for her involvement in the cyberbullying of Meier.
Time for Action
We love our kids. That is why we, as parents, need to step up and take action. That action begins with each one of us.
What can we do? Rachel Simmons says she wishes “more adults would come clean and level with kids about their own past. Doing this opens a channel of honest communication between youth and adults, instead of making kids feel like they are doing something no one has ever done before. If we don’t model self-reflection, how can we expect kids to do the same?”
Surely, our kids know that we love them just the way they are no matter what happens, right? On the offchance that they may be feeling uncertain about things, let them know you’re there. Tell them and then tell them again.
My colleague Christopher Heffron blogged about this very subject at http://blog.americancatholic.org/2010/11/02/still-a-child-of-god-2. Read it.
Finally, set the example you want kids to follow.
All parents I know would do anything for their kids. So as a mom I’m asking you, begging you—parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles—please do your part to help stop the bullying. And remember, our kids are watching.
For Teens: A Message From a Mom
I know listening to the advice of adults is not high on the list of favorite things for teens, but I’m asking you to bear with me for a minute. I have something important I want to tell you. You are loved. (I know some of you may be rolling your eyes right now, but I want you to hear this.) No matter what happens or what you may think, you are always loved. Have you ever heard the saying “God doesn’t make junk”? Well, it’s true. You are made in God’s image. So when life gets rough, don’t forget you have people who love you and will help you—parents, siblings, friends, relatives, a teacher, school counselor or your parish priest. Turn to them, please. And, most important, know that nothing—nothing—is so horrible that it will make us stop loving you. How do I know all this is true? Because I’m a mom, and I say so.