Three teenagers have killed themselves this month either because they were gay or because they were believed to be gay. Three. They were all around thirteen. In two of the cases, there were reports from several sources that the boys were being relentlessly bullied by other children at school. In the same two cases, the school districts in question have denied that any complaints were made.

I lived through bullying in school. It is part of why I have strived to teach my daughter from her very early school days that what other people think of you doesn’t matter nearly so much as what you think of yourself. It is a lesson that I am still trying to learn and I’d like her to have a head start on it. As I have told her, there will always be someone ready to laugh at you for the things that you like, so you may as well like it anyway.

On that note, I remember having tried to talk to school officials about what was happening to me in middle school. My good ol’ boy counselor told me that “boys will be boys” and, basically, that I needed to toughen up. My Mom thought I was exaggerating and it was years later before she realized just how bad some of the things I was going through every day really were.

My heart breaks for these three little boys because the adults who were supposed to be protecting them didn’t. In one of the cases, the parents have said quite clearly that they made complaints to the school and the school is denying knowledge of the complaints. Do I doubt that the schools were utterly non-responsive to these situations? Absolutely. On the whole, our schools do a poor job of handling bullying and all too often, behavior that should, under no circumstances, be tolerated is chalked up to “kids being kids.”

I wonder how many other children – because thirteen is still very much in the child category to me – feel that suicide is the only answer? How many other people are drowning in their own heads because the people around them are intolerant and hateful? I wonder how many of the parents of the children who were bullying these boys actually know that their children were doing something like this…and a quiet part of me wonders if any of them would care because the reality is that kids learn things from the environment around them. A lot of them quite likely learned their intolerance from their families.

Whether you agree with something or not, there is, in my opinion, no excuse for treating another human being in the fashion that drove these children to kill themselves. There is no call in tormenting someone because of their sexual orientation anymore than there is call for tormenting someone because of race, gender, social class, or religion. And quite frankly, I don’t care what religion you fall under or if you fall under one, the Golden Rule really -is- applicable to every day life: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It really should not be that difficult a concept: treat other people with the same respect that you want them to show you. Do you know what I would love to see? Stories about situations where the group at large turns on these small groups of bullies and says “No, that’s enough.” I would love to see stories about how the education system stops failing these children and instead, turns on the bullies and says, “No, absolutely not in our hallways.”

K’s school actually has a pretty strong no bullying policy and it is an active part of their environment. They have monthly workshops on it and there are areas in the school that have no bullying signs and things like “Be a hero” and basically other signs and images that encourage kids to be decent to each other as opposed to tormenting each other. I like that a lot; however, I also remember hearing things like that from administration and teachers when I was growing up and I remember the reality as well. That is why I teach my daughter to be proud of who she is and to be comfortable in her own skin. That is why I tell her that if someone is being mean to her or giving her trouble at school that I want to know about it. I have made certain that she knows that no matter what, she can come talk to me and I will help her sort it out. Sometimes, sorting it out is simply explaining things like, “Honey, people laugh at other people all the time because they think it makes them cool,” or “I’m sorry that this situation made you feel this way; how do you think you can change it in the future?” Other times, it is explaining how her own actions in a situation helped make it turn out the way it did. So far, we’ve not had anything major happen. A few giggles over Ne Hao Kai Lan socks notwithstanding, K has always had pretty good luck at making friends and being one of the kids that the other kids like to be around, but I also am prepared for the fact that middle school is coming…and children become completely different during those years.

I am kind of losing my train of thought, in part because I cannot get past the anger and the outrage that I feel on behalf of these children and the worry that I have for other kids in the same situation and in part because I just want to run around hugging all the children I see and telling them, “No matter what, there are always people who love you, even you feel like the whole world is against you.” For that matter, there are a great number of adults who could probably use the same hug.

Talk to your kids. If they tell you that they are being bullied, look into it. Talk to their teachers. Talk to their administrators. Keep a record of who you talk to and when you talk to them. Use e-mail as a method of communication. Write letters. If the administrators don’t listen, go to the school board. Take it as high up the chain as you have to in order to help protect your kids. Remind them every day that they are loved. If you cannot find resolution in your child’s school, look into options for relocating them to a different school: sometimes it can make a difference.

Consider what you say around your children. Is the off-color joke really appropriate or is it simply helping to spread the culture of hate and intolerance to the next generation? There really is a difference between not agreeing with someone’s lifestyle and intolerance: are the words that you use around your children words that are respectful of other people or are they filled with dissension and mistrust?

Think about the choices that you make and the words that you choose to use and remember that hate and intolerance do nothing for the future of our country. But perhaps most importantly, remember that no matter who you are, no matter what you believe, what you feel, what other people tell you, you are loved. Do not let despair and hate and intolerance make you believe otherwise. Seek help. Hold onto the hope and the knowledge that there really are other people out there who will love you and support you.

Try to share a little love and a little hope with the world around you. You might be surprised at what you get in return.

And while on the whole, I am not a huge Plato fan…these words seem apropos today: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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