I keep my opinions on current events pretty much to myself. If you want to know my religious or political leanings, read my work. Bits of it creep out. Ultimately I feel such things are irrelevant anyway. But sometimes, something just hits me the right way, and it stews inside me like a pressure cooker until it finally explodes.
I have two kids, one of which is still in high school. As such, I get emails from the school about things that are going on, simply by virtue of having my email address attached to my kid's record. To be honest, I usually ignore these.
Then on September 6, an email came in announcing the death of a student the day before, a freshman named Sherokee Harriman. It caught my attention, needless to say, but beyond verifying whether or not my child knew her, nothing really clicked other than how sad and tragic it is that someone should pass away so young.
As the next couple of days passed, I learned more about what happened and started feeling royally pissed.
I live in a relatively small town outside of Nashville. We're not Mayberry, but we do tend to have a fast grapevine that reveals all kinds of things. Again, most are irrelevant, even to the people who live here. Sherokee's situation was not one of those.
What I learned was that this fourteen year old girl had not simply died. She had taken her own life. The reason? She was a victim of bullying.
I was confused, as I always am when stories like this come out in the news. With her, as with the others, I saw her pictures and wondered why it happened in the first place. She was white, so racism probably wasn't a factor. She was pretty, and didn't appear to be overweight, so that didn't make sense either. Then I stopped myself, not because I didn't want an answer, but by trying to discern the reason she had been bullied I was no better than the punk ass kids who had done it in the first place. Reasons don't matter. The sad truth is simply that some kids who think they're better than everyone else in the world found a target and went after it. They didn't need a reason. If one wasn't evident, they made one up.
Because there's really one answer to why it happened, once you boil things down. And honestly, I can't even really put the blame on the kids who did it. They're just idiots, but that's not their fault. That can be overcome. The fault lies in the parents who don't give enough of a shit about the rest of the people in the world to teach their kids tolerance. The parents who think it's funny when their hellspawn do something bad, because they did it when they were kids too.
What kind of fucked up mental midget do you have to be to condone your kids antagonizing another living, feeling human being to the point where taking themselves out of the equation and cutting off any chance of knowing what it means to really live is the preferable alternative? How can you look at yourself in the mirror and sleep at night knowing that you have failed your children and the world by not bothering to teach them the difference between right and wrong?
The parents all come back with the old standby that "kids will be kids". Kiss my ass. That just means that kids will test their boundaries as they grow up and develop a sense of independence. If you did your duty as their parents, their boundaries would not have extended so far as to allow being complicit in what amounts to murder. That's one hell of a boundary there, let me tell you.
As parents, our duty is to set those boundaries. If our children push against them, fine. I can accept the "kids will be kids" excuse. But if you choose to just ignore that breach, or are too disinterested in your child's life to bother noticing that they're doing it in the first place, that makes you directly responsible for every screwed up thing they do from that point onward. Children must be disciplined. That doesn't mean you have to beat their asses for every perceived transgression. It does mean, however, that you MUST take an interest in your child's life and let them know their actions have consequences.
It's not the fault of violence on television or in the movies. It's not the fault of violent video games. The music didn't make them do it, nor did the books they read. The fault lies in you as parents who want to be friends with your kids rather than be their parents. I'm forty years old. My oldest kid is nineteen. Why the hell would I want to be friends with someone that much younger than me? We might share some interests, but how can they possibly understand the things I've experienced in double their lifespan? I love my kids. I have fun with my kids. I enjoy spending time with my kids. But there is zero doubt about the roles we play. I am their father. Period.
I was called names in school. I was bullied, though not as severely as the reports I've heard lately. I was lucky enough to have friends and family who helped me realize that it didn't matter what those assholes said to me. The only person I had to answer to was myself. It didn't matter what they thought of me, so long as I was happy with myself, at least to the degree that anyone at that age is capable of it. When one of my kids began to experience similar things, I was able to pass that lesson on. The problem is that the bullies of my generation grew up. Some of them matured as they aged, and became well adjusted members of society who now understand what they did back then was wrong. Others, it seemed, saw nothing wrong with how they acted. This has allowed their children to raise the bar higher, meaning the bullying has become more severe.
I was a "nerd" and a "geek" and a "dork". But as the computer age dawned, those were the people who inherited the earth. I shudder to think what today's bullied children will inherit. From the looks of it, they're being conditioned to be bitter and resentful and isolated. That does not bode well for the future of the human race.
I grew up in the South, to parents who had lived before the civil rights movement. Racism was not defined as such for me. At the same time, they taught me to value the person and not what I saw on the outside. Because of that, I was able to grow up and not care if you were white, black, yellow, brown, purple, or green. Color was just that. It was the person you were inside the counted. It took work to overcome the native prejudice that still exists in the American South where people might mean no offense but give nothing but. Still, I did it, because I had parents who taught me right from wrong as best as they were able, because they cared.
The parents of these kids who bully people to suicide? They obviously don't. You can argue all you want that you do, look how much I do for my kids. You might as well be farting in the wind for all the good it does you. "Kids will be kids." Here's another old truism for you: "Actions speak louder than words." You can claim to care all you like, buy your kid whatever they want and call it love, but the truth is in how they act and how they treat other people. That's the direct result of your influence as a parent.
Something needs to be done, but the irony is that nothing anyone does externally will accomplish shit. Zero tolerance policies don't work. How can they, when the kids are taking their cues from their disconnected parents? Until parents wake up and realize that it's their own damn fault their kid is a little shit with no respect for anyone, nothing anyone does will help. I'm not being defeatist here, just stating the facts. I wish things were different, but the evidence doesn't support it. I wish I could slap every one of these people upside the head and make them understand that if only they would raise their kids right from the start, if only they would be the parent and stop expecting the schools or the kid's friends, or someone else or worse the fucking television to do it for them, then maybe - just maybe - this shit would stop.
I've said my peace. I would apologize for offending anyone, but if you're doing the right thing with your kids, I think you won't be offended. The only ones who will be are the ones who read this and felt like I was talking directly to them. And I hope I DID offend those people. Maybe it will make them open their eyes and stop thinking the world owes them something. I doubt it, but I can still hope.
To Sherokee and all the countless others who endured what she did, I know you're beyond caring about this now, but some of us care. Some of us want better for people in your shoes. Some of us do our damndest to make sure our kids understand how to treat other people, even if they're different. Especially if they're different. I just wish you could have known that sooner. It might not have made a difference, but then again, maybe it would have. That's what all of us who try have to live with. We failed you by not knowing what to do to fix it sooner, but please know it was not from lack of caring.