A Punch To The Gut

24 01 2015

Young-girl-4dd0288086086_hiresA 15 year-old girl hung herself this week. And two days later her family had to make the awful decision to remove her from life support. She died.

I convey these details in a very blunt way, because a sad story like this should be delivered forcefully, shockingly. Like a punch to the gut.

I didn’t know her at all. I remember this girl and her sister from a few years back, joyfully running around on the soccer fields where I coach. She had a distinctive last name, so I also remember them both getting many awards at our yearly sports banquets. From reading her obituary this morning, I now know that she did other things well: singing, dancing, writing, softball, basketball, cheerleading, fishing… to name a few. By all accounts, she was an extremely intelligent and engaging young woman, with a very bright future.

Is “why” too simple a question to ask?

I’ve heard from some that she took her own life because she was bullied, but I’ve heard from others that it wasn’t that simple – how could it be? There can’t be just one reason for something like this. But I’ve seen stories on the news and read some online articles about cyber bullying. Like those other issues, we sometimes don’t realize there is a problem until it happens in your own backyard.

In the wake of this death so close to home, there have been calls for retribution against kids who bully other kids. People are asking for prosecution by the police, or a good old-fashioned ass-kicking. This saddens me as well. Criminal charges and jail time is certainly warranted, but little consolation to a grieving community and family. Violence to punish violence is just plain stupid… it’s not likely to save the next victim of bullying.

Google the word “bullying” and you may be shocked at the sheer volume of information that you find. A quick investigation revealed some very alarming statistics (bullyingstatistics.org):

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. According the same study, 10 to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide.
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.
  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
  • Only 1 in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a cyber-bully victim, and fewer than 1 in 5 cyber bullying incidents are reported to law enforcement

To me, these numbers are staggering. Worse still is that even though the amount of resources to battle this problem are increasing, the amount of incidents are climbing.

I found myself feeling very fortunate that both my sons’ teen years are behind them. But after thinking about it, why should I feel that they are safe?

So the big questions… What kind of world have we allowed to evolve? A world where some kids feel free to humiliate and degrade others? A world where a scared and scarred child believes that suicide is the logical way out?

Are we all so detached? I don’t have any answers, except to communicate with your kids.

This tragedy has prompted some of my friends with younger children to have some very honest conversations… with themselves and their kids. They were hard conversations… ending with pledges by the parents to always be there to help, and to pay attention to signs that a child is struggling.

There were also pledges by the kids to be honest and open about their problems, seeking help from parents about anything… no matter how weird or embarrassing.

And they also pledged to do no harm to themselves or others… to not take lightly the precious gift they have been given.

We can always do better. And I have some talking and listening to do.

Read here about Carley… gone too soon, too young. And hug your kids…

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