Suicide within our community has been progressively increasing year over year. The numbers in our state rank among some of the highest in the country. This understandably isn’t an award anyone wants. Even more recent, we have had children taking their lives because of bullying in the school system. The school’s reaction and solution to the problem has been less than inspiring. In some instances, the schools have even attempted to cover up the problem by lying to the students about how their classmate passed away. As an advocate for suicide recovery and prevention this is an absolute degradation to the student that passed away, their family and the entire community. Brushing it under the rug is continuing to build the foundation for more problems than it is resolving. It is time as a society that we step up and discuss this topic. Our children’s lives could literally depend on it.

Suicide and bullying have been known to go hand-in-hand. When I was a child growing up, we were told to suck it up and deal with it. The schools provided little to no support nor did anyone else for that matter. While this clearly didn’t resolve my situation, escaping bullying was a bit easier. Social media and the internet were just coming into their prime so the shaming that occurred publicly was limited. When the bell rang at 3:05 p.m. I was able to sprint out the school doors and head home. There I could decompress and forget about my problems for the evening or weekend.

With that being said I ask, do children today have that same luxury?

With the rise of social media and smartphones the answer to that question is a resounding no. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube don’t stop streaming when that school bell rings. If anything, that is when the real streaming begins. As a society, we become exponentially more explicative, confident and inhuman as we pound away on the keyboard. We forget that everyone is human and whether the words are spoken out loud or typed on a screen they still hurt all the same. Reading a post written by someone about how overweight you are, shaming you for your relationship or sexual orientation or blatantly lying about your lifestyle is going to be challenging. If you hear or read something enough times, you’re eventually going to start to believe it.

Children are supposed to be in class to learn in a safe environment without distraction. Yet, when the teacher isn’t looking, photos are being taken, text messages are being sent, and posts are hitting thousands of news feeds. The bullying is no longer isolated to one student shoving or bad mouthing another. It is being mass distributed through the school and community because of technology. Children are no longer standing up to just one person they are standing up to the entire student body in some situations. Yet, we are simply telling them to fight back or suck it up and get over it. This age old message is not going to resolve the massive number of students passing away each year by suicide because of bullying. We have to change our thinking and perspective on bullying to tackle this challenge.

I have spoken with multiple parents—including my own—who struggle to understand that bullying is not what it used to be. As technology and society has evolved so has bullying. This isn’t a Generation Y or Millennial problem, it isn’t a Generation Z complication, this is a setback that spans every generation. We need to address the challenge at the source and crush it before it begins.

Which brings up another question, why is the bully escaping proper punishment?

About nine months ago, I was in an elementary school listening to a principal scold a child. After hearing the child go through a 10-minute lecture, I had a fairly clear understanding of what had happened and how punishment was going to be dispensed. The young boy was forced to stand in front of the principal to plead his case, but it made no difference. Despite being bullied by three other boys, having his personal belongings taken from him and tossed around in a keep away fashion, the boy was going to be suspended for hitting one of his classmates in the face.

What happened to his attackers you might ask?

If you said nothing, you’d be correct. They were going to escape with a simple, “don’t do that again” and carry on with their school day as if nothing had happened.

Despite being completely removed from the situation I was furious. It took everything in me to keep from screaming at the principal for his inability to address the source of the problem. This boy was ganged up on, taunted and had his personal belongings taken from him. He was asking for the principal’s help but because he defended himself, he was the only one being punished. Let me tell you, as a 34-year old male if you taunt me, take my personal belongings and expect me not to take a swing at you I’d encourage you to do give it a whirl so I can smack some sense into you.

Personal feelings aside, let’s take a step back for a second. Here is an elementary student being bullied, asking for help after having to defend himself and is now being punished. His support structure is in shambles at this point after being abused by students who received no punishment and we wonder why children are taking their lives after bullying occurs. The entire system is failing this child and if the faculty had been doing their job this child would not have needed to raise his fist in the first place. Remember this was an isolated situation, imagine throwing some social media into the mix and three bullies now becomes hundreds. That feeling of abandonment and exposure has now grown exponentially for the students being bullied.

The principal obviously isn’t in an easy situation, but it is clear we are supporting those in the wrong and leaving the defenseless to fend for themselves. We need to be holding the bullies responsible for their actions. If these were adults in a professional environment, the human resources department would expect a harassment claim to be filed that would potentially lead to the termination of bullies’ employment. Should we not offer the same options for our children and the faculty of the school?

I often hear, “boys will be boys” when discussing bullying amongst our male youth. While to an extent that may be true and I can definitely relate, I have three young boys that are the pride and joy of my life. It isn’t the answer or resolution to our bullying problem. First, bullying is definitely not isolated to one gender or age, it spans all sexes, race, gender, etc. Second, I let my boys wrestle and argue a bit because frankly I think it is good for them to experience in a safe environment so they can better handle themselves in public situations when I can’t be with them. As their parent though, I can clearly tell when a line has been crossed. When that point is recognized, I immediately jump in and separate the boys and try to coach them on what went wrong and how to handle the situation next time.

I hold their actions as a reflection of myself and my parenting ability. If I don’t teach them the correct actions today, they are going to make the wrong decisions tomorrow. This is the first step into mitigating bullying. As parents, it is our responsibility to allow our children to make mistakes at home, discuss the situation and allow them to share their feelings. By not providing them this safe learning environment they are never going to realize how to process their emotions and the last thing I want is them taking these emotions out on other students. By teaching them how to properly respect their peers, process their emotions and handle situations we should be able to mitigate the bullying taking place within the walls of our schools.

Now mitigating the bullying isn’t the only reason I mention proper parenting. All of the blame and responsibility can’t fall on our school system. I mention it because in situations of extreme bullying the parents should and need to be held liable. Having children can be one of the most rewarding things anyone does but it isn’t for everyone. Our children are a reflection of our parenting. If a child continues to bully other students and both parents and faculty have taken steps to control it, the school should have the right to recommend the child either be moved to another location or in extreme repetitive situations force the parents into homeschooling the child. The parents of the children being bullied should also have the right to do the same and petition for the bully to be removed from the school.

I’m sure right now you are freaking out at that idea. Sounds pretty extreme doesn’t it?

Well it is. Extreme action is what we need now because we have let the problem fester for far too long. Both parents and teachers have to work together, not against each other to resolve the problem. After all, as a parent if my child was the bully I would rather find out and be forced to handle the situation myself then have my child push another child to take their own life.

It’s called responsible parenting people. Again, having children isn’t for everyone and if you find this notion of having to handle this sort of situation yourself as a parent, you probably shouldn’t have had children.

We have to work relentlessly as parents to make sure our children understand right from wrong, learn to work hard, overcome challenges and grow up to be upstanding citizens of society. Sending our children into the world starts by sending them to school. It is challenging enough for them without bullying. Parents and school faculty need to work together to put together a plan and start squashing the bullying epidemic. Will it be easy to do? Absolutely not. Will it ever completely go away? I’m willing to bet, no. As a team we can accomplish so much more, and our children are worth us coming together.

At the end of the day we are all human. Our technology has brought us to both an amazing and horrible place. We have to stop hiding behind our screens and treat everyone with respect. Children today can’t take on bullying alone. With social media it doesn’t ever end. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week for some of these children and they need an escape. Children should never consider suicide as their only option out. If we work together to stop bullying, we can change the future not just our children but for generations to come. As our parents have told us for years, it’s time we suck it up and deal with it.

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