Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Sleepover Suicide: Bullying's final outcome

Many of you have probably heard about and watched the painful interview two moms from Minnesota gave to Matt Lauer on the Today show about their two daughters, who on a sleepover, having made a suicide pact, hanged themselves. There is no sugar coating this, no euphemisms for the death of two 14 year olds, no way to make this easier. The moms talked about the bullying these girls endured. These were not the girls who were anywhere near the "popular group". They were best friends. Friends who stuck up for each other, even if it meant fighting off their antagonizers and getting suspended from school. BFF. Kids made fun of their weight, their hair color, and who knows what other buttons of insecurity they pushed in these two girls

The moms talked about the counsel they gave to their daughters. "I told her to be the bigger person", and " if you can just see past tomorrow" you'll be OK. Teens can't see past tomorrow, that is the problem. They live in the moment, and each of their "moments" must have gotten harder and harder. Both these girls suffered from depression, and perhaps there were other issues that played into the feelings they shared that "its all too hard". For some reason, they felt that there was no other alternative. That is the scary part. To feel at 14,  that life's hardships are just too big to be endured is heartbreaking.

This is a story you need to share with your teens. The consequences of bullying seem harmless when you are just part of the group, along for the ride, just trying to fit in by taunting, calling names, putting nasty things on facebook walls, when "everybody else is doing it." But the hard truth of suicide is a harsh lesson that sticks and stones do break bones, and words do harm you! I wrote this in a previous blog and I think it bears repeating here when you talk with your teen about this story. Here is your  I get it moment: "You know honey, I get you could be in a situation where your friends are making fun of other kids, and I know it is hard to take a stand sometimes even though you know its the right thing to do. Kids can be pretty cruel, and I know I would be afraid that that kid would turn on me, so here are some things that might help. Maybe talk to your other friends and together make a pact than when this bully type kid starts in on someone, you all will help. That way no one person feels like they have to take this on alone. There is power in numbers. The bully is counting on the fact that they have the most power. But if you and your friends band together, you are the ones with the control. You can say things like: "You're an idiot, we're out of here.", or "hey man, take it down a notch". Give them a script and an action plan. In those moments of real stress it is hard to do the right thing, I get that!!!

For your son or daughter who is being bullied, you have to empower them with real ammunition. I know the moms of these two girls where being supportive telling them to "be the bigger person" and "just let it go", but that is not an action plan. Kids who are being bullied need to feel they HAVE some control when they are being taunted. Give them the language to fight back. So when you kid is taunted about their weight, or their clothes, or their height, or their acne, or their intelligence, or their personality, even just a short statement said with great confidence: "Really  you think!" or Well, what are you gonna do!" or " I guess I can't do anything right!"  or "You are hard to please!" All of these said with sarcasm and confidence. You don't want to antagonize a bully you just want them to feel like their comments are not as powerfully hurtful as they think they are. Its no fun to bully someone who can laugh it off, and walk away with a shrug.

And most importantly you must monitor and supervise your teens facebook and texting. This is where bullying is happening. If you see on your teen's wall that mean things are being said about him/her, make your teen defriend those kids, and block their numbers from your teens phone. At least this is something they can control, and can't be hurt by things they can't see.

Monitoring and supervising facebook and texting is a parents job. Bottom line, you are responsible for your kids until they can be responsible for themselves, and can control their impulses, and let me tell you a 10-17 year cannot control their impulses. They need constant reminders about what is Ok to put in texts and on facebook and what is not OK. Post these rules in a prominent place above your teens computer: You say:"this is non-negotiable. Either you keep these posted, or you lose your computer!!! Thats how important I think this is. I want to make sure that you consider these issues before you post something that could affect your life and someone else's life because of your actions":

  • Will this post hurt someone's feelings?
  • Will this post feel threatening to anyone?
  • Does this post give too much information about myself?
  • Is there anything in this post that another person could read and misinterpret?
You can't protect your kids from everything, but you can make sure that you are engaged and involved enough to get a read on what is going on in your teen's life. That means doing things your kids don't want you to do. So be it.

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