On Bullying, Diversity and Change
Last week I attended the wake for Jamie Hubley, a teenager in my community who committed suicide. There were so many people there to share in the grief of Jamie’s family that was a two hour wait to speak with the family. Hundreds turned out for his funeral. As a member of our community, as a parent and as an acquaintance of Jamie’s father, my heart broke over this tragedy.
By all reports, Jamie was a wonderful young man – full of talent and energy. Yet he reported on his blog that he felt he could not take the pain which he felt in life and he could not see through to a time where life would be better. The “It Gets Better” after high school campaign pledge wasn’t enough: 3 more years of the isolation and bullying he experienced was too much for him.
As well meaning and inspiring as the It Gets Better campaign is, no child should be told that they must wait out years of emotional (and sometimes physical) torture and bullying for a distant light at the end of the tunnel. And let’s be honest, adults, it doesn’t always get completely better. Bullying and harassment doesn’t magically get better when you leave high school – people who are different often get bullied and harassed for much of their lives.
I don’t want to talk about blame for the young people who bullied Jamie, or those who stood by and did nothing: I want to talk about parents. Much has been written about this tragedy over the past weeks but I wanted to add my own perspective as someone who has recently been through a 3 month election campaign. I met thousands of people and the vast majority of them were thoughtful, kind people. But I also met bigotry, discrimination and hatred. I know that there are parents in our community exposing their young people to intolerance and hatred for those around us who are different. Those young people almost certainly bring those sentiments into our schools and their peer groups.
We as parents must start to take responsibility for the behaviour and prejudices which we pass along to our children. We must model open and accepting attitudes. We must stop being bullies ourselves. About a year ago I put out a call on Facebook for parents to join me in making what I called The Parent Pledge. I ask any parent reading this to make the pledge, and then go live it:
Children are not born knowing how to hate. We teach hate, distrust, fear and shame.
As parents, we bear the huge bulk of the responsibility for what our children learn. I believe that we can raise a more accepting, more compassionate, more understanding and more supportive generation, if we collectively turn our minds to it. But we must first take responsibility for our part in creating who our children are.
The recent string of suicides of young people who felt bullied, harassed, unsupported, unloved is heartbreaking to me, especially as a mother. As much as the It Gets Better campaign is a wonderful initiative which will hopefully provide some with strength and a vision of a different life, it is ridiculous that this initiative even has to exist.
I never want my children to face that kind of adversity nor do I want them to be the perpetrators of hate or fear.
So, I make the following pledge, and I ask you to join me:
* I pledge to not teach my children hate.
* I pledge to not use racial, sexist or homophobic slurs around my children: I will not refer to people or events as “gay”; I will not teach my children racial or gender or sexual stereotypes.
* I will teach my children to judge people by their conduct, not physical characteristics.
* I will teach my children that being open and accepting of people’s differences is more rewarding than rejection and hate.
* I will accept my children for who they are: realizing that I play a vital role in their self esteem and their ability to face adversity in the world.
Imagine if each person who took the time to mourn Jamie over the past few weeks had used that same time to reach out to Jamie himself, let him know he was special and he was accepted? Imagine if we now used what time we have to do the same to another exceptional young person? We can change this. We can make this better, now.