This is a really difficult post to write on a good day. I think what I'm writing about needs to be talked about and picked apart by as many people as possible, so when you're finished reading this, please - by all means - farm the link to it out, email it, share it with as many people as possible please.
One week ago, on a Monday much like any other Monday, Sirdeaner L. Walker, a breast cancer survivor, found her son hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of their Springfield , MA home. He had endured another day of taunting at New Leadership Charter School, where he was a sixth-grader, she said, and just couldn't take it anymore.
She phoned the school repeatedly since Carl began attending in September but the bullying continued, she said.
Other students made him a target, daily calling him gay, making fun of how he dressed and threatening him, she said.
Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover was 11 years old.
I'll repeat that, so that it might sink in a little bit better - Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover was 11 years old. He is only one of many, many others. Sadly, this isn't the first time I've written about this, and it will not be the last. That is his picture to the left - he could be your child or a child you know. How would you feel if I were writing this story about YOUR child, what then? Look at him, burn that sweet face into your memory. We owe him at least that.
Some of you may recall last Fall when my then 15 year old nephew, Jake, had been bullied by a kid at his school for almost 2 years, leading up to that kid bringing guns to my nephew's school one day. Guns that he had stolen from someone else's house, no less. Many people reading this are personal friends of mine, many of whom have school aged children, and this is a reality happening everywhere - one I hope none of you ever have to go through - but it is happening and we cannot afford to ignore it anymore when 11 year old children are driven by torment to kill themselves. We dodged a major tragedy that day, but I can barely even think about it in retrospect without being in tears and conversely being caught up in anger I cannot put into perspective. In a way, that is why I'm writing this.
According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Center, nearly one in three youth nationwide reported either being bullied, having bullied someone, or have done both .
According to the center, one recent study of grades 6-10, showed as many as 13 percent reported bullying others, and 11 percent said they were victims of bullies.
Victims of bullies become anxious, insecure and cautious, suffer low self-esteem and rarely defend themselves or retaliate. Often they feel isolated and withdrawn.
The most common reason cited by youth for why someone is targeted for bullying is because the person does not fit in.
The Center also notes there can be long-term effects for both the victim and perpetrator of bullying.
Victims as adults suffer from depression and poor self-esteem, while 60 percent of bullies in grades 6-9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24.
The National School Safety Center defines bullying as physical confrontations and direct threats of violence, but also indirect forms such as rejection and exclusion, humiliation and name calling, manipulating friends, and more recently, hurtful messages sent by e-mail or posted on web sites.
Carl was taunted by other children for the way he dressed and because they suspected he was gay. My guess is that his tormenters come from homes where their morals, values, and ethics are such that any discussion of homosexuality, any mention of it winds up being painted with the broad brush of disapproval and in some cases abject disgust. Still worse, some of them may come from "good God-fearing, traditional values parents" who see news reports about same sex marriages and equal rights and make cavalier statements in the presence of their children about how wrong such things are, about how evil and wrong homosexuals are. Some will posit that this is just a means of communicating a belief, and that it is harmless as it isn't tantamount to inciting hatred or violence against any particular group. I say that they couldn't be more wrong - because that is where this begins. Homophobia, much like racism, is learned behavior - and parents infect their children with it all the time. When they make disparaging statements about others, it gives their children license to put people in their crosshairs as some sort of enemy opposition to their own way of life. The crowd that seeks to 'protect marriage' is in fact recruiting their own children, the same ones they make egregious claims about protecting, into thinking that the gay people whom they'll likely never know or ever meet are intent on destroying their families. That's all it takes for them to legitimize bullying another child in a lot of cases, and then there's peer pressure. That's another huge factor.
Bullying among our youth is a significant problem--and it is steadily increasing. Many experts fear bullying has become so widespread and common, adults are blinded to its extensive harm. Here are some facts:
- It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. (Source: National Education Association)
- A survey conducted by the American Association of University Women reported that 85% of girls and 76% of boys have been sexually harassed in some form and only 18% of those incidents were perpetrated by an adults. Young bullies carry a one-in-four chance of having a criminal record by age 30. (Study by Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesman)
- American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims. (Dan Olweus, National School Safety Center)
- One in seven students is either a bully or victim.
- 56% of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
- 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.
- 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
- One out of 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school.
- Mean behavior among kids is a universal problem. In a poll of 232 kids in kindergarten through 8th grade at a Connecticut elementary school, every child claimed to have been the victim of at least one schoolmate’s or sibling’s meanness in the previous month.
Someone, somewhere in the world attempts to take their own life every 3 seconds. One person successfully takes their own life every 40 seconds. In the time it took me to write this (right at 2 hours), approximately 180 people killed themselves and another 2400 tried to kill themselves. Maybe one of those people is someone you love.
Again, please share this with as many people as you can and begin talking about it. Thank you for reading.