Bullying, Abuse, and Suicide Risk Among Students: Ignorance is Bliss for Disbelievers (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Recently, a man commented on one of my blog posts that I made last year regarding a particular school in which bullying (and worse) occurred by children and adults toward other children.  What was so shocking to me was that the man basically stated that he was physically abused by religious at a parochial school during his childhood, and he inferred that children should currently be treated more harshly (infer more abuse and violence) than what they already endure in many schools.  In responding to the man – and seeking to provide information for his understanding of the seriousness of the issue – I stated to him that bullying, abuse, and violence is extremely serious in the United States.  The United States has the highest child mortality rate of any Western country.  And, in the United States, Texas is the state with the highest single mortality rate (about 4%) of any state.

Why isn’t the American public outraged about that?!  Why do more people not stand up for and protect children, nor seek to listen to, hear, and understand them?  Why is it so easy for so many people to minimize, overlook, ignore, and discredit children?  It is no wonder that so many children and youth commit suicide when they do not receive the assistance and/or protection that they need from their families – or other adults, and then, experience bullying, abuse, and/or violence at school.  Children and youth are so vulnerable.  They are growing and developing, and are going through stages of their lives in which they are most fragile.

Too many people believe that children and youth should be harmed – and then, they call it discipline or disciplinary action.  Children and youth need support, care, kindness, understanding, and compassion.  How does American society expect children to grow and develop in a healthy manner when many of their role models, teachers, coaches, and/or other adults bully and harm them?  What is worse in a Catholic or religious faith-based school is when the expectation is that children are to be valued and appreciated, but are bullied and harmed by many of the very adults who are charged with protecting them.  The situation is not restricted to faith-based schools, but is present in all too many schools in the United States, both public and private.

I believe that much of the issue relates to the toleration, acceptance, encouragement, and promotion of violence – particularly media violence – within our culture.  So many television shows, movies, and other programs that have been deemed “entertainment” are so horrific that I have rarely watched them, now, over a period of many years.  Yet, for many people, the more violence they view, the more they want.  It is as if there is a competition in the United States in media and entertainment to produce more and more violent shows and movies.  That would not occur if people did not spend so much money to view violence, to play violent video games, to participate in sports that are violent, etc.

Thus, I have broached a few more topics about which most people do not want to contemplate, talk about, or take action to prevent or eliminate.  These are, however, issues that must be brought into the open and discussed if there is any hope for improvement in regard to them within our culture.  One person who takes his or her life due to bullying and abuse is too many.  Yet, there are dozens of children and youth who commit suicide in the United States, with such deaths continually on the rise.  Last I knew, there were about 135 reported deaths due to suicide in the United States in one recent year.  There are likely many more that are not reported.  And, many of these children and youth who commit suicide have been bullied and harmed at school, by their peers and/or teachers.

I have taken the liberty to post several links regarding children and youth who have committed suicide in such circumstances so that the man who posted his comment, saying that my article was “stupid” can have a better understanding that when someone is dead, the situation is too late to improve – and is far from “stupid.”  For this man, ignorance is bliss.  Following, therefore, are just a few of the 100s of links on the Internet (in no particular order), all of which I retrieved on April 30, 2014, related to children and youth who have committed suicide due to bullying and/or abuse experienced at school from their peers and/or teachers:

“Bullied 10-year-old girl commits suicide.” http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Girl+Commits+Suicide+On+Camera&Form=VQFRVP#view=detail&mid=7A9D5FDFA0071FC8A1657A9D5FDFA0071FC8A165

“Suicide of Amanda Todd.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Amanda_Todd

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince

“Suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamey_Rodemeyer  (One of my student teaching experiences was at a school that he attended, Heim Middle School, in the Williamsville (New York) Central School District.)

“Gay Ottawa teen who killed himself was bullied: Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school.”  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/gay-ottawa-teen-who-killed-himself-was-bullied-1.1009474

“Suicide of Kelly Yeomans.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Yeomans

“Girl commits suicide after boyfriend sends her naked photos to fellow students, Family receives $154K from school.” http://news.asiantown.net/r/26323/Girl-commits-suici–100-e-after-boyfriend-sends-her-nak–101-d-photos-to-fellow-students–Family-receives–154K-from-school

“Girls, 12 and 14, arrested in death of bullied Florida girl who killed herself.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/10/15/girls-12-and-14-arrested-in-death-bullied-florida-girl-police-say/

“How a cell phone picture led to a girl’s suicide.”  http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/10/07/hope.witsells.story/index.html

“Georgia middle-schooler commits suicide after bullying, being called ‘snitch,’ dad says.”  http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17616979-georgia-middle-schooler-commits-suicide-after-bullying-being-called-snitch-dad-says?lite

“Bullying allegations probed after boy, 15, commits suicide after first day of school.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/29/bullying-allegations-probed-after-boy-15-commits-suicide-after-first-day-school/

“Anti-gay bullying cited in Georgia teen’s suicide.”  http://www.projectqatlanta.com/news_articles/view/anti-gay_bullying_cited_in_georgia_teens_suicide

“My bullied son’s last day on Earth.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/23/bullying.suicide/  (It is difficult to believe this already happened five years ago; I remember the news about it.)

“Ex-teacher gets 30 days for rape of girl, 14; judge says she was ‘older than her chronological age.’ ”  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ex-teacher_gets_30_days_for_sex_with_student_14_judge_says_she_was_older_th/  (I am aware that the National Organization for Women made a formal complaint against the judge in this case, desiring his removal as a result of the sentence that he gave this man.  The girl committed suicide.)

“Teacher Kidnaps, Rapes Boy.”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/video?id=7390696

“Mary Kay Letourneau.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kay_Letourneau

“Columbine High School massacre.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

These 17 articles represent at least 29 people who died, either by suicide or homicide, in relation to bullying and/or abuse by peers, or abuse by teachers.  The articles also represent at least two other survivors of abuse who remain living.  The victims and survivors in each of these articles are reason enough why bullying and abuse must be taken more seriously, and be prevented and eliminated, especially in our schools.  Hopefully, the man who commented on a different one of my blog posts in relation to this issue no longer views it as “stupid.” 😦

As a result of the comments made by the particular man in regard to a prior post relating to these issues, I have been inspired to create a new LinkedIn group, “Stop Youth Suicide.”  I created the group today, and promoted it within 30 LinkedIn groups, and invited 70 people on LinkedIn from around the world to join.  Six fellow LinkedIn members – most of whom are mental health professionals – have already joined the group as of 5:30 PM Eastern Time today.  I have also promoted the group on Twitter, and will continue to do so.  Today, I have also gained additional followers and “likes” on Twitter as a result of creating this group.  (As of 1:30 PM Eastern Time on May 4, 2014, there are 55 members of the group!)

The comments made by the particular man – and the thoughts and attitudes of so many regarding these issues – definitely reflect the need for increased understanding, sensitivity, compassion, and support toward children and youth, especially those who are contemplate, attempt, and/or commit suicide as a result of bullying and abuse, that which is especially experienced at school from peers and adults.

“What Benefit is There for Third Graders Serving One Hour Detentions?” (By Michele Babcock-Nice)

In how many schools throughout our country do primary and/or elementary school students serve detentions?  For that matter, how many second and/or third graders throughout our country are required to serve 30-60 minute detentions for rather minor issues?  How many of you adults ever served a detention at all in the primary or elementary grades? 

I am a person who believes in nurturing and supporting children, positively – as positively as possible.  I recall that when I was in school, I served one detention.  The detention that I served was when I was in high school for talking excessively in chorus class.  That detention was one that I served after school in study hall for 45 minutes. 

Today, primary and elementary school students are serving detentions of 30-60 minutes.  I fail to see the benefit of such severe disciplinary consequences on such young children.  Issuing detentions for situations such as when a student is talking without permission while walking in line with the class in the hallway, to me, is overly severe.  Such disciplinary consequences do not allow children to be children. 

In the best-behaved children, receiving such a detention shatters their self-esteem, especially when the teacher does not issue such consequences fairly to other students who exhibit the same behavior.  Such lengthy detentions issued to young children reflect an unforgiving attitude and atmosphere of the adults.  Such consequences cause feelings of injury and resentment in students, especially the best-behaved students. 

Issuing 30-60 minute detentions to third graders for students who poke a hole through a piece of cardboard, or who write in another student’s personal storybook after being given permission by that student to do so is unfair, harsh, and unforgiving.  Especially for those students who attend Christian faith-based schools in which forgiveness is to be one of the core values of the school – and when such forgiveness is not practiced, but rather, severe consequences of lengthy 60 minute detentions are issued – undermines the faith foundation of the school.  What is preached is not, in fact, practiced by those issuing the disciplinary consequences. 

In too many schools, children are expected to be perfect at all times, at all costs, no matter what.  Of course, I expect that when there are serious situations that arise, such as kids hurting or harming another in some way, there are to be serious consequences.  However, I still do not see the benefit of issuing serious consequences to students for minor issues.  Doing so does more harm than good, and it potentially creates a bad reputation for the school. 

Regarding the issuing of these consequences, there are often no exceptions, unless, of course, the student happens to be the child of a teacher or other employee at the school.  Then, there can be much that is overlooked.  Even if the children involved in a situation are not offspring of school employees, bias and/or favoritism may still be present in the decision-making regarding disciplinary consequences.  And, for some poorly-behaved students, the most severe disciplinary consequences could be issued, and there would still be no change or improvement in behavior, so to what end does that lead?  Again, that just creates resentment and mistrust in the student toward authority figures. 

Some students will even act out more after receiving disciplinary consequences.  Their negative behavior is negatively reinforced by the severe consequences, and so the cycle continues.  Some students get so nervous about the severe disciplinary consequences that they act out and do not even realize it, and then, they receive the severe disciplinary consequences – exactly what they were afraid of and trying to avoid.  Some adults believe that severe consequences – even for the most minor of issues – will stop the child’s behavior, though being understanding, compassionate, and speaking with care to the child about the situation is the best route to take. 

I am familiar with one school principal who visited a class of kindergartners, yelled at them, caused several of them to cry, and then, left the room, leaving the three adults in the classroom to comfort and console them.  How is that beneficial to the students?  How does the leader of the school yelling at them give them a sense of comfort and confidence.  Tragically, it ingrained their fears of the principal, that he is a big, mean, scary man to avoid and not trust.  He may compliment them publicly, but privately, he yells at them and makes them cry?  Is this a man who should be a leader of a Christian faith-based school, one who unnecessarily intimidates and scares the youngest students in the school?  It appears that he is exactly the person whom school system administrators want to lead the school.

Issuing lengthy detentions of 30-60 minutes or more to primary and/or elementary school students is too long and too severe.  Such disciplinary consequences – especially in response to minor issues – hurts children’s self esteem, injures their confidence, and creates mistrust and resentment, especially when the child has generally outstanding behavior and/or when the consequences are unfair, with the other child(ren) involved receiving no consequences. 

If school administrators are trying to increase enrollment and maintain student retention rates, issuing severe disciplinary consequences is not the route to take.  I have observed a good many families leave particular schools simply because of the severe disciplinary consequences their children (especially the boys) receive for minor issues, to the denial of teachers and/or administrators.  Why is it that so many female teachers lack the patience, empathy, and understanding necessary in understanding and teaching young children, particularly boys?  For them, the students must immediately abide by their rules, or repeatedly face consequences, sometimes throughout the entire school year, and often, simply because the teacher is angry with and/or does not like the child.  I have observed this to occur toward many children in relation to several teachers. 

Typically when parents inform school administrators about such situations, their children are only punished more because the teachers are supported by the administrators.  If the administrator denies that there is a problem regarding the teacher, then the parents are supposed to believe it, as well as that the problem lies with their child.  This is definitely a regressive and unproductive attitude to take, however, I have observed it occur over and over again.  People tell me that I have multitudes of patience, compassion, and understanding – I would be overjoyed to teach those educators and administrators how to respect and understand young children.

It is unfortunate that more people who are in the business of educating and/or caring for our children are not more understanding, sensitive, and compassionate toward them.  Being excessively harsh is incorrect and unethical; being compassionate, caring, and kind is what Jesus has taught us to do.  Those affiliated with Christian faith-based schools should be practicing that the most of anyone rather than doing the opposite of it.

I do not believe in harsh punishments, nor severe disciplinary consequences.  I do not issue them, nor do I agree with them.  When disciplinary consequences issued by a school are more harsh than I would ever dream of giving my own child, one must step back and reflect on whether or not the school truly upholds the faith and values that it promotes. 

Such faith and values begin at the top in any organization, and if those values are not in accordance with what the school stands for, then leadership restructuring, reorganization, and/or positive, progressive professional development is needed in order to promote, maintain, and enhance the best interests of the students.  I am one who truly believes that our schools must be progressive, not regressive.  People can say alot of good things, but actions truly speak louder than words.  When those actions do not correlate with the faith and values on which the school was founded, one must wonder in what direction the school is heading.

So the question remains, “Where are those schools in which true faith-based compassion, sensitivity, and understanding – as well as an excellent, affordable education – is practiced toward children by everyone, rather than severe and unforgiving punishments for minor issues that are detrimental to them?”  These are children for goodness sakes, not criminals.  I am interested to know where the said progressive and nurturing schools are; and only those schools with said qualities need apply.