Over the last few weeks, I have had a flurry of calls from "stressed out" parents because their kids said to them: "I am going to commit suicide if you make me go back to that school. I want to end it all. My 'friends' at school laughed at me when I was being teased and it was horrible. I hate life." Well, the good news is that every parent that sought my help now has their kids feeling healthier and happier. But the question remains: Is bullying the cause of some suicides?
Are they connected?
Many mental health professionals and suicide prevention specialists say that school bullying doesn't cause suicide. They suggest there is something "far deeper" going on in adolescents and children that kill themselves. I agree. However, I know that things aren't as "black and white" as they would like to believe either. Young children, adolescents and adults who are highly sensitive or emotionally unsteady and don't have the emotional skills to navigate such intense, heart-breaking experiences are vulnerable for making "poor choices" when they bullied. Suicide is clearly a poor choice.
So do I believe that school bullying causes suicide? No, it doesn't cause suicide. But what it does is provide a child who is emotionally sensitive, predisposed to sadness or irrational choices, the fuel to make the worst choice ever—the irreversible choice of suicide.
The Real Problem
Seeing past the surface of the bullying epidemic sweeping our nation and the unfortunate impact on way too many kids, we need to ask ourselves: What is the real problem? The real issue is that we (parents, teachers, leaders and policy makers) aren't equipping our children with the emotional tools and guidance they need to successfully navigate their worlds. Instead of seeing other options when depressed, hurt, embarrassed, angry or humiliated these hurt kids like Phoebe Prince and Amanda Cummings (both 15) choose to end their lives.
So my recommendation is that we put the emotional lives of our children first and then train them on academics, social skills, life skills, and all the other add-on subjects that somehow have been deemed important. Because if we don't really begin giving our kids the tools of positive emotional health (happiness) from the get-go, we are setting them up for suffering and pain that can be avoided.
Of course, I see positive shifts in many progressive schools that have brought in emotional health courses from K-8, but it needs to happen in more places. Schools that don't have the money and teachers that find themselves ill-equipped to handle the stressors in these children's lives—they need it too.
Seeing a Solution
So where does a solution emerge? It happens with me and you doing our part as emotionally intelligent adults raising kids to succeed and empowering them with the knowledge as well as skills to surmount life's challenges—whether it is a bully on the bus or a "broken heart." And if it's not your forte then my suggestion is to link your child to the people, places and things that can help them navigate their deep (and often overwhelming) emotions successfully. In other words, we need to "stay aware" of our children's emotional lives and help them develop the skills to handle pain as well as sadness so they can find their way through it.
Ultimately, we also need to shift our priorities as how we educate our children across America like I mentioned above. Emotional health is not an "add on" class like gymnastics but needs to be in the core curriculum of every public, private and charter school in our country so that we can give our children—our most precious resource—the tools they need to succeed in their lives and become who they came here to be.
Maureen Healy is a practicing child development and parenting expert working with adults worldwide. She is also the author of the upcoming book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness (April 2012). More information: www.growinghappykids.com and twitter @mdhealy
© Growing Happy Kids, LLC, 2012