In a cyber-powered world, bullying can feel unsurvivable and the recent loss of a local son reminds us how fragile and strong we are depending upon our world view and the circumstances.On Dec. 3, 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 and an easy target for ridicule. While the bully problem is not new, there is no doubt that bullying is intensified with the power of social media and texting communications such that it can rob a person of all hope and break an individual. All of our children are experiencing and witnessing hyper-powered bullying in their cyber social realms, as aggressors, targets and bystanders.
Lisa Ford Berry, founder of BRAVE Society, 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 and essentially “slaughtered” him emotionally with texting and social media. 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, and Ronin’s death is a reminder that we still all have work to do. “We need to start working from a trauma-informed care approach,” she said acknowledging that bullying is learned behavior.
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.
Berry is committed to changing the education culture that tolerates uncivil conduct. “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.”
See parent worksheet: Confronting the bully at home and school
At home, parents have a responsibility to socialize children to use technology in ways that respect the dignity of human life. Here are some tips:
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. Bullies 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 handout on Banana Moments.com.
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.
Find 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 meant that there would be random checks of cyber communications to verify that the core values of the child are in alignment with the on-line activities.
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 how 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. 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 behavior. 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?