What would compel a 12 year-old to take her own life? Endless and persistent bullying. As a parent and educator, Alex Yarde believes that we – as parents – can help put an end to this horrific trend.
I witnessed a pretty remarkable, though sadly not entirely unexpected, cruel event recently. A group of girls (5 to 6 years in age) were bullying another girl. They told her to act like their dog. So, she crawled around on her hands and knees. The other girls then told her to eat schoolyard mulch from the ground. Sadly, the little girl complied.
This was a remarkably sad and terrible thing to see, kids being so mean to other kids. We’ve all been on either side of that equation. However, as disturbing as this was, another aspect of this scene filled me with sheer outrage. This incident was taking place in the midst of dozens of small tables filled with clusters of chattering nannies, mothers and assorted “caregivers”. No one made a move or lifted a finger to stop what was going on. Not sure if it was Bystander Syndrome, where the more people there are witnessing an incident, the less likely any individual will choose to get involved, or if folks were simply asleep at the wheel. So I stepped in – I felt like I did not have a choice.
My actions to intervene caused the mother of the ringleader of the bullies to finally saunter over and get engaged. I suspect, however, she was more likely concerned over the approach of a large, black man to this group of little white girls than for the victimized child.
Barely able to contain my anger, I said “This girl is being made to eat dirt! This is abusive. Who is this child’s mother?” The mother of the ring leader, only now putting the pieces together as we stood there, sheepishly acknowledged the incident crossed a line. She then shepherded the victimized girl, her daughter, and the co-conspirators back to the picnic table where, I assumed, their mothers were located.
I didn’t hang around to see the aftermath. At that point I just needed to gather my brood and leave that oppressive gulag that masqueraded as a cheery, school playground. Am I judging? Yes I am. Absolutely. My heart broke for that little girl. She’s no kin or acquaintance of mine, but my empathy for her required no such connection. I’m a father, I am human, I care. I was compelled to act. The itch I can’t scratch and the impetus for this article is- Where was everybody else? Why didn’t a single adult other than myself intervene?
Personally, I consider the term “other peoples children” oxymoronic when it comes to the safety or welfare of a child. I would like to think that if any adult witnessed a children’s game turn dark, (as we’ve all have at one time or another) that anyone would step in. I would hope that adult would have the decency to speak up on the victim’s behalf, verbally discipline offenders, redirect play and use it as a teachable moment. Now I am not so sure. But, for me, at that moment, that little girl pressured into crawling on the ground was my daughter. Perhaps even on a deeper level she was me. No child, at any age, should feel compelled to debase themselves. Especially in the presence of those charged with their care. The ones holding the leash aren’t being done any favors by ignoring the situation either. If adults give the green light by their indifference and a child demonstrating bullying behavior thinks its okay to intimidate someone into eating dirt, what’s the next dark whim to be inflicted on others?
In this age of cyber bullying where a victim can be inundated with an inescapable barrage of torment and with a legion of venues and technology available for kids to use to be cruel to each other, its my belief adults need vigilance to empower children. We can’t allow these types of incidences to go unchecked. To drive the point home, for a year, as many as 15 girls ganged up on a 12-year-old girl from Florida, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, and picked on her, bombarding her with online messages such as “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself.”
Rebecca couldn’t take it anymore.
She changed one of her online screen names to “That Dead Girl.” She messaged a boy in North Carolina: “I’m jumping.” Monday, she went to an abandoned concrete plant, and hurled herself to her death. I suspect the seeds were planted long ago and poor Rebecca was in pain long before she made that tragic choice. And there are too many young people like Rebecca out there for us to ignore.
As my many years as both an educator and wilderness instructor self reliance is a cornerstone of my educational philosophy. Those that know my teaching style know how I loathe involving myself in kids’ politics, I have a firm belief children have to work things out themselves. As a father of two I’ve never been accused of being a “helicopter parent” as I believe emotional intelligence is a key concept that children develop interacting with one another. I don’t profess to be Dr. Spock (Google him, youngsters) but one doesn’t need a PhD or MD to model concepts of compassion and self respect. One only needs to remember three things, not to blame the youth, that our silence is our acceptance (any behavior children display within our presence that we don’t correct, we condone), and parenting isn’t a spectator sport.