We hear the national news reports regarding bullying in schools, neighborhoods and communities. It's nothing new, the pundits promise action, and we feel a bit better that the problem is being addressed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The latest casualty? Joel Morales, a 12-year-old New York City boy. Teased relentlessly, his mother, Lisbeth Babilonia, pulled him out of one NYC school and enrolled him into another, only to have the bullying continue. The reasons for the perpetual taunting? His small size, his high IQ and the death of his father when he was 4. Joel was able to deal with the verbal assaults and the sticks and pipes that were thrown at him, but when they started making fun of his dead dad he reached the breaking point.
Babilonia, was worried about her son when he did not return home from an after school club meeting. Worry turned into frantic and desperate fear, and soon she organized a search party. Hours later, at 11:30 p.m., she found him, hanging in their apartment from a rafter. The image of the scene and her tortured agony is almost too much to bear.
When are schools going to get it? Teaching the 3 R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic, is not enough. Tolerance, respect and common decency need to be addressed along with the basics, because unfortunately, this is often not taught at home. And not only that, teachers, principals and administrators need to be constantly in touch and vigilant about what's going on in the classroom and on the playground.
Bullying is a problem that is not going to go away on its own. How many more deaths have to occur before schools take this problem seriously and responsibly? A therapist at one of the schools counseled Morales about his size, and said that he was reluctant to discuss his problems. A youth minister regularly spoke with Morales, yet said he never spoke about what he was going through.
This is very often the case. These kids are ashamed, embarrassed, shy, even afraid to speak up, which is why all school personnel must keep their ears and eyes open and be prepared to intervene. This is why all parents have to talk to their children about how to treat others, and must know what their kids are doing and who they're doing it with. It's called parenting.
This is not an isolated problem -- Joel is just the latest example. Last month it was Teddy Molina, a Texas freshman high school student, who took his own life with a hunting rifle. No longer able to withstand the taunting from a group called the “Wolf Pack”, he permanently ended the verbal assaults the only way he knew how. The reason for the harassment? He was mixed race. Again, this fun-loving youngster kept it all inside, not wanting to upset his family by the derogatory comments.
New Jersey's Lennon Baldwin, 15, died 2 months ago in an apparent hanging suicide. Authorities suspect the bullying he endured at school played a role. Nadin Khoury was brought to the U.S. from Liberia to escape the cruelty from their home country. After being punched, kicked and dragged, his body was found hanging from a seven foot high fence in a Philadelphia suburb. The gang responsible for the heinous crime was known to bully boys smaller than themselves.
The legal proceedings in the Phoebe Prince hanging suicide just recently concluded. If you remember, Prince's family moved from Ireland to Massachusetts to experience America first hand. Although the school district settled with the parents for $225,000, it will never compensate them for the loss of their daughter. However, it is setting a precedent that the schools do have liability.
As I mention in 5 Important Lessons From 4 Tragic Bullying Deaths, (1) Those struggling with their sexuality need to realize there are sources in every community to help; these kids are often targets (2) Parents must speak out. You must talk to your child about bullying and let them know it is wrong. Also, you must ask them often if they or anyone they know is being bullied. If so, you must report it immediately; (3) Teachers, administrators and school personnel have a duty to stop bullying on school grounds. There must be a zero tolerance policy. (4) Parents must teach their children acceptance and tolerance of others that are different, and that we all have gifts to share to make the world a better place. (5) Not only must bullies be held accountable -- their parents should be, as well.
It's too late to bring back any of these precious children, but hopefully their deaths will bring about change. If you can take one thing away, let it be this: Talk to your children. Listen to your children. If you do this, no telling what you'll learn. Talk, talk, talk, and keep those lines of communication open. Is someone bullying them? Are they bullying someone? And finally, do they know someone who is being bullied? Ask often and listen carefully.
A classmate told Morales' family that once the taunting turned towards his dead father, it simply became too much. If this child had told his parents, or a trusted teacher or school personnel or a counselor, Morales could very well still be alive today. Always remember that you can make a difference.