Fight against bullying is harder than we think

I find it troubling that last week, a nine year-old boy took his own life because he was bullied at school for coming out as gay.

Troubling actually doesn’t do the story justice — it’s horrifying, it’s gut-wrenching, and it’s a scary sign of what’s going on in young kids’ lives.

For those who do not know the story, Jamel Myles, a nine year-old from Denver, Colorado, came out to his mother during the summer, and told her he was proud to be gay. When he returned to school, he was bullied for his sexual orientation, and was told by classmates that he should “kill himself.” Four days into the new school year, Jamel Myles was found dead by his mother. His death was announced as a suicide shortly after.

Bullying starts at such a young age, but why? I think most kids want to be good friends to their classmates, good teammates to those they play sports with outside of school, and so forth. I really do think that kids inherently want to be good people. But they must be learning the cruelty of bullying from somewhere — so how are we making an effort to stop it? Did a nine year-old boy — starting the fourth grade — really need to die as a result of being bullied for sexual orientation, for us to realize that we just aren’t all doing a good enough job?

Bullying in school is nothing new, and though there have been considerable efforts to prevent bullying — maybe the focus needs to be shifted. Kids shouldn’t start learning about bullying after they’ve experienced it, they should be learning about bullying early on so that they can be taught there’s no benefit in doing it. Kids should be taught that when they see bullying, they should stand up for the other person and stop the person bullying them, to tell a teacher or adult.

Now, maybe teachers and parents feel that they are doing all they can to prevent their kid(s) from becoming the bully, to teach them how to recognize it and build their confidence to shut it down when they see it. So what else can be done?

It’s tough to talk about this topic, because for most of us, the fact that someone as young as nine has taken their own life as a result of bullying is hard to believe. It’s difficult to wrap your head around the idea that self-harm occurs at ages as young as nine, and unfortunately, probably even younger.

How do we help solve these issues, when they’re hardly seen until it’s too late? Simply, we have to talk about it more, and we have to ask the tough questions. When it comes to friends, family, classmates, and co-workers, it’s important that we’re talking about the hard subjects. Many people who suffer through self-harm, through bullying — they don’t feel they have a safe place to discuss what they’re going through. Or, in some cases, they simply don’t know who to go to for help or guidance.

It’s on everyone, not just teachers or parents or medical professionals, to check in on people and make sure they are getting the help they need.

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