At a school orientation meeting a couple of years ago, during the guidance counselor’s spiel to the parents about the wonderment of middle school, she proclaimed “we hit bullying hard in 6th grade.” At the time, I was the only one who chuckled out loud at the irony of that statement. Later in the year though, the erroneousness of the same statement wasn’t funny.
Unbeknownst to me, my own son spent the second half of his 6th grade school year being bullied by a group of classmates. I like to think I’m pretty involved in my kids’ lives (too involved if you ask them), but had NO clue. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Looking back, maybe I should have given more thought to the fact that he stayed home a lot and didn’t do much with his friends during that time. But as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. I just thought he was being a typical tween that gets moody. It never once crossed my mind that he was being bullied. I bought into the false perception that kids who are big for their age don’t get bullied. I was guilty of stereotyping the victim of a bully as a scrawny, small child. Never considered it could be a 5’8″ eleven year old.
The bullying was mostly verbal, with occasional shoving. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is just wrong. Very wrong. Words hurt just as much as punches. It wasn’t until the school year was almost over that I received the “come pick me up NOW” text that started the conversation during which I discovered what was wrong.
He said he hadn’t told me sooner because he was afraid I’d go to the guidance counselor. He didn’t want to be labeled a snitch which would make the situation worse. I finally was able to drag out a bit of vague information, after promising not to go stomping into the school, demanding punishment for the bullies. It was one of those parenting moments where I truly did not know what to do. I did not want to betray his trust, but was devastated that he had been silently suffering for months.
Since there were only a few days of school left, I bit my tongue. I’m surprised I didn’t bite it right off, considering I was also clenching my teeth in anger. Fortunately, summer break seemed to heal all (most) wounds (some may never be healed) and the bullying stopped in 7th grade. As far as I know. I don’t have the illusion anymore that I know exactly what is happening in my kids’ lives.
On Monday, a horrific incident happened in Maryland. A 15 year old took a gun to school and shot another student. As is often the case in situations like this, the boy was bullied. And as is almost always the case, the student that is fighting for his life was a random target – in this case a special needs student who greeted everyone with a smile – completely uninvolved in the situation. A lot of people are very quick to judge when something terrible happens. The parents should have raised the shooter better. The school should have intervened. Peers should have seen warning signs. Bullying is to blame.
I feel a lot of things about this shooting but judgement isn’t one of them. I feel incredible sadness, and intense fear. Heartbreak for the victim, his family and everyone involved, including the family of the shooter. Anxiety that I have two teenagers – plus 2 that will be teenagers before I turn around- and the realization that something like this could happen anywhere, at any time. But not judgement. I don’t personally know anyone involved. Even if I did, I still couldn’t judge. No one – let me repeat, NO ONE – knows everything about this situation. So no one can really pass judgement. You can argue about how the teen dressed or what he posted on Facebook or the parents’ past or how he got the gun or even that he was bullied. And those may all be valid points . But the fact remains that the reason this teen decided to take a gun to school and open fire may never be known. There are many other teens that have a bad family life, that have guns in their home, that don’t dress “the norm,” that post gloomy thoughts. And, yes, very many that are bullied. Probably more than we know. Because they are afraid to tell. But those other bully victims don’t decide to turn to violence against others like this one did. There is some part of the story that is missing. Something beyond the headlines that made the teen make the devastating choice he did. Something we may never know without getting inside his head.
Don’t point fingers. But keep that sadness and fear. Use those emotions for good. Pray for the victim and his loved ones when you feel sad. Come up with ideas of how to prevent this in the future when you feel afraid. Instead of condemning and placing blame, praise those that were heroes in this situation. The faculty and counselor that got the gun away most likely prevented this from being a worse tragedy than it was. But it is still a tragedy. An awful, horrible tragedy. An unexplainable, unblamable tragedy.
Bullying is an inexcusable act. It is unacceptable that we live in a world where tweens, teens and even adults live with the feelingof knots in their stomach because of another person intimidating them. Even if it isn’t the sole cause for what this teen did, bullying did probably contribute to his downward spiral that ultimately led to his desperate act. We all need to continue to “hit bullying hard” until it ends. Completely. Forever.
God bless and heal you Daniel Borowy. May you soon be back at school greeting your classmates with waves and high fives.
Daniel’s friends are making a plea to his favorite singer, Lady Gaga, to come visit him. Send her a Twitter or Facebook message to help with their cause. I truly hope that wish comes true.