Another Child Dead

Bullies seem to have claimed another victim yesterday. I doubt they meant for Cassidy Joy Andel to take her own life. I hope they didn’t mean it. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of them did; adults routinely underestimate the vast, inhuman cruelty of which adolescents can be capable. But it’s far more likely that they were simply thoughtless; the part of the brain that deals with consequences doesn’t develop until the 20s.

As usual, whenever the topic of bullying comes up, a flurry of thoughts pop up in my mind, disorganized, angry, and yes, a little bit bitter. I will never understand people who think being a kid was awesome or a fun experience. And I didn’t have it nearly as bad as other kids I knew, either.

So here are a few of  my gut reactions. They are about my experience only. Other victims of bullying have very different experiences, and mine are not representative of all victims.

  • “This bullying has become almost an epidemic nationwide.” I honestly don’t know that this is the case. I think we’re learning to recognize forms of bullying that were never considered bullying before. I was a victim of relational aggression. Although relational aggression has never been considered a good thing, I am fairly certain it was not called bullying 20 years ago when it was happening to me. If someone had asked me if I was being bullied at school, I would have said no, and I would have been telling the truth. No one ever beat me up or stuffed me into a locker at school. That’s what bullying meant.
  • The general tone of the article seems to implicate social media and the internet in bullying. Although social media and the internet have given bullies unprecedented access to their victims, they are not the cause of bullying. They can make bullying easier and worse, because it enables even the most cowardly bullies to make comments they would never say to another person’s face. But remember, they are not the cause of bullying, and in some cases, may provide a child an escape from bullying.
  • “It’s a trend our kids are going through,” he said. “…They don’t always realize that who they are writing to or about is a person.” This is very true. The internet can be a very depersonalizing thing, and bullies are great at depersonalizing, converting people into nonpeople and classmates into outsiders. But it is a tool, and just as a hammer can be used to pound nails or pound faces, the internet can certainly be used positively or negatively. Teach kids good online habits and practices; forbidding them to use Facebook will not necessarily solve the problem any more than forbidding them from using the phone.
  • Although this doesn’t relate to this article, I have heard several people state in passing their beliefs that bullying starts in junior high or high school. This always surprises me, because I can’t clearly remember a time when I wasn’t being bullied. I remember being crushed when people didn’t invite me to their birthday parties in second grade, and I remember sitting in the lunch room alone day after day, hoping someone would sit by me, but bringing a book along in case they didn’t. Other social outcasts were my only hope. Later, when we had to ride the bus, I developed a strategy of looking out the bus window so I at least wouldn’t have to see people consciously decide not to sit by me.
  • I did not tell my parents or teachers I was being bullied. We didn’t call it bullying back then. And even if we had, I probably still wouldn’t have told them. Why? I’m still not entirely sure myself, but repeating nasty things someone said about you makes those things more real, and they feel more true, and you are humiliated all over again. And I was afraid my parents would be disappointed in me for not being able to “get along” with other students. (I was dead wrong about that, by the way. My parents are awesome.) Plus, there was literally nothing to report most of the time. What do you say, “Mommy mommy, no one did anything to me at school today”? But I like people, and being forcibly isolated from almost everyone for years was a terrible punishment for an extrovert. And my classmates did it to me for years.

And finally, here’s a cautionary note.

I offer no solutions to bullying. I don’t know how to prevent it, solve it, or fix it. There are no easy solutions.

I do know one thing, though Teachers and parents care, and they are making tremendous efforts to prevent it, solve it, fix it. Support them in their efforts. Don’t assume either group is at fault. Help them, because bullying is a wide, far-reaching problem that can’t be solved by waving a magic teacher-wand or sprinkling some superpowered parent dust on a bully.

We are all in this together. Bullies divide, so logically, any efforts to stop bullying should unite.

I don’t know why Cassidy Joy Andel is dead. Maybe we’ll find out it had nothing to do with bullying at all as the investigation proceeds. Either way, today is a sad day and we are all diminished by her passing.

3:55 p.m. updates:

5 Responses

  1. Kari,
    Excellent article. It definitely falls in line with what I wrote in the Flensburg Files about respecting people based on who they are and not harassing them just because of something they didn’t like. If you want, you can refer them to the column “Look, Listen, and Learn,” to give the readers an incentive on how to treat people with respect and learn from them. The article was in connection with a pair of suicide attempts in Massachusetts and Tennessee and these two stories inspired me to vent my frustration on this topic, as I went through the same thing myself while in school. Yours is definitely setting an echo for others to acknowledge that there are people out there who need us to keep them company and befriend them. Well done indeed. 🙂

    Have a nice Friday and thanks for sharing.

  2. Good post.

    It certainly does seem, as we communicate on a more national, and global level that this topic is becomming more and more common – newspapers, television, internet blogs and chat forums. I think that’s a good thing – the more we talk about this, the more we see the frequency of occurances and realize that it’s always been there, and is progressive, the more we can help to curb this behavior in our children… and consequently, they in theirs.

    Bullying has entered an entirely new forum, with the internet and electronic communication boom. And kids just don’t know how to take that step to block numbers, block people from posting to their sites… kids don’t know how to walk away from the harassment. I think part of it is a burning desire to be informed – to know what other people are saying about them – to eliminate as much of the “behind my back” stuff as they can. My own children seem to prefer to go through the agony of reading terribly mean texts and posts, than to just block people from their phones and websites. It frustrates me, and I can’t seem to change it – all I can do is talk, talk, talk to my kids… try to offset some of the damage that thoughtless peers can cause… which isn’t easy, because as they enter teenhood, my opinions and advise seem to hold less and less credibility.

    Ok – I’ve rambled much too long – but, that’s a tribute to your article, really… you got me thinking… 🙂 Again – good post!

  3. Deb

    Maya Angelou says it best, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 37 years later, I can still remember how certain classmates made me feel. This kind of stuff can stick with you for life. I cannot even imagine the pain that thisgirls’ parents must feel. Yet, sadly, since the consequence part of the brain is not developed in these bullies yet, they won’t get it. Not yet anyway.

  4. Lyz

    We must have had similar experiences. Being a new kid to a small town in 4th grade, plus being a timid bookworm, pretty much garunteed that I was an outcast. There were a few outright physical bullying moments, but most of it was what you described – being avoided and laughed at.

    As an adult, and by the grace of God, most would never guess that that’s who I was. And I’m also realizing that for ME, a lot of it was my own perception of the situation, not what people were intending necessarily.

    I totally agree that bullying is not a new thing, or even a trend. We are just noticing it more, and there are new tools in the arsenal. I love that you don’t blame parents OR teachers – their jobs are so big, and kids are tough nuts to crack sometimes. We are all doing the best we can.

    People like you and I, who lived through it to be confident adults, can be great examples that things don’t stay the same, and life gets better. Preach it!

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