Last Wednesday 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu, a freshman at Folsom Cordova Community Charter School, committed suicide. He was reportedly tormented by relentless bullying because he was a member of the cheerleader squad. We know that while the bully problem is not new, there is no doubt that it is intensified with the power of social media and texting communications leading to headlines of youth suicides.
The Folsom Cordova Unified School District Superintendent, Debra Bettencourt, issued an open letter expressing sorrow for the loss of Ronin’s life, affirmed that the school district conducts empathy training for students and trains staff to detect bully situations, and asked for community support to confront the bully problem our children are experiencing.
Lisa Ford Berry, founder of BRAVE Society headquartered in Carmichael, lost her 17-year-old son Michael in 2008 to suicide in the wake of a horrific cyberbully campaign about a rumor that he was gay. This rumor was kept alive 24 hours a day, inspiring all manner of hate speech, amplified with texting and social media, and essentially “slaughtered” him emotionally. Because of the humiliation he felt for being attacked, he kept it from his parents and the bully campaign robbed him of his identity and his hope. According to Berry, she learned the hard and painful way that the bully climate at school is unchecked because adults look the other way. “We need to start working from a trauma-informed care approach,” she said acknowledging that bullying is learned behavior. “And we also need to have firm and harsh consequences for the adults who work in schools for their failure. We [also] need to get many of the families in counseling so they can heal – but no one wants to say or do much. Every one finger points and, yes, another child has died.”
The role of parents in addressing the bully problem
In a cyber-powered world, bullying can feel unsurvivable, as the incidents of suicide that make the headlines remind us how fragile and strong we are depending upon our state of heart and mind. All of our children are experiencing and witnessing intense bullying in their cyber social realms, as aggressors, targets and bystanders. Here are some tips for parents:
- Pray for your child to have the mind of Christ. (Philippians 2:5). Christ-centered thinking grants us the perspective of God’s intentions for us in order to overcome the undue influences in the world, including bullying, addiction and exploitation. The mind of Christ helps us to recognize a lie that has become a real experience murdering the truth.
- Discuss stories and movies that feature individual resiliency. During Christmas, Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer is an excellent story to have conversations with younger children about how being different can be hard because your peers will tease you, and there is always hope because what makes you different is also valuable. If your child is a Harry Potter fan, consider how Harry’s unique capabilities attracted a bully, [HeWhoShallNotBeNamed], Voldemort. Conversations about how it is possible to overcome the bully can help your child start thinking in terms of appreciating the differences in himself and in others rather than ostracizing or demonizing them.
- Monitor your child’s cyber communications to ensure that the discourse is civil. Our family motto was “inspect what you expect.” This means that parents do not grant minor children privacy, but they respect it by not blabbing personal business without permission, and not micro-managing.
- Make sure your child understands that no matter how difficult or painful a circumstance or situation feels, never give up and seek wise counsel. When people take their own lives at any age, it is an example of the wrong thinking combined with the right circumstances. When your child understands that what other people say and do only have power over them when they choose to allow it, then it is possible to see problems as temporary despite the intensity of the feelings. While feelings are real, they are not the facts. Our faith informs us that no matter how we are feeling, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Pray for your child to have this truth in his or her heart. (Romans 8: 38-39)
- Consider that abusive, bullying behavior is learned. Kids are learning it from one another and they learn it at homes. Take a hard look at your own family dynamics. How does your family handle mistakes, foibles or idiosyncrasies? Does teasing in your home cross the line? Do you have an expectation of respect for the individual at home? How are your expectations for treating other people communicated and then honored?
- Do not minimize your child’s torment. If your child is experiencing a bully situation at school that is tormenting your child, then it is important to get the school administration involved so all parties involved can get help. People bully because they have issues. They are suffering too. People at peace do not seek to disturb the peace. For more information about your child’s rights and engaging school administration, go to BRAVE Society.org, and the Confronting the Bully handout.
For more reading about spiritual authenticity and individual resiliency go to: Reviving Parenthood.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.