- Posted October 10, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Bullying awareness: Your story
Of all awful bullying suicide stories, one that stayed with me is of then-10-year old Ashlynn Conner from Ridge Farm, IL. Almost two years ago, it did make a national morning show eventually, all the way from the quaint local paper, but that was it. The nation, to the extent it noticed, could go back to mourning the demise of Demi Moore’s latest marriage, just like these days the world has time to debate the newest antics of Miley Cyrus, made convenient on this very homepage by dedicating a tab to the issue.
Ashlynn, back then, was a beautiful girl with a bright smile a sensitive soul. So sensitive that when other kids called HER a slut, fat and ugly, a boy, again and again, and when she complained about it her teachers called her a tattle, she couldn’t take it anymore. The police haven’t found evidence of anything “so bad” that should have driven Ashlynn to end it all; perhaps because none of the insults made any sense? But a child who goes to school in fear of ridicule and ostracization, day after day, year after year, doesn’t have to look for the deeper meaning of life to conclude that there is none.
I have a daughter almost exactly the age Ashlynn would be now, and despite --or because of?--everything there is to know, bullying has been an issue at both her schools. Could it happen to anyone? Bullies tend to pick the weaker ones. But weaknesses vary so much, and bullies’ tastes are so versatile that those it hits will never know why. I’m lucky to never having been bullied for longer than five minutes, but I witnessed classmates being emotionally abused to the point of severe physical illness. If I winced at how they were treated, what did it feel like for them? I have never participated, but, other than giving them a quick smile and low “hi” in the hallway when the “cool kids” weren’t around, I haven’t stood up for them either. To this day I am sorry.
As with any accusation, people have strong opinions on the role of bystander. Some equalize him with the perpetrator. I respectfully disagree. Doing nothing is not admirable, but standing out from the masses by actively harassing and libeling and threatening and maybe making good on threats requires more criminal energy than the nothing-doer should claim. At the other end of the spectrum there’s full absolution, bullies being just kids who don’t know what they’re doing. Sorry, not so. The kids in Ashlynn’s class were in the fifth grade, not pre-K. They know basic right from wrong. They must have heard at least one story, presumably read at least one book on human values, delivered in kids’ terms.
But one won’t do. We need to stand up. Schools are raising awareness, but boring assemblies and “Let’s-all-be-nice-to-each-other” memes sadly and clearly aren’t cutting it. We parents must not only protect our own children but also look out for others. Of course it’s harder than it sounds; if striking the balance between giving space and helping were easy, many tragedies we’re incredulous about wouldn’t be happening. But let’s try. You can’t make your children (nor yourself) like someone unpopular, but, if they’re not harmful, don’t make others like them less. Hold your kids accountable. Find out how they spend their time, whom they call friends, and if the term is merited. Examine the notion of popularity. De-glamorize outrageous celebrities about whom there’s nothing to celebrate. Admit that dullness has nothing to do with being kind.