So said the mother of Rachel Ehmke, the 13-Year-Old Minnesota middle school student who committed suicide by hanging herself on April 29th after months of bullying by fellow students. The friendly, outgoing and athletic seventh grader endured harassment that no child should have to confront.
- “Slut” was scrawled across her gym locker.
- She was called a “prostitute” though she had never kissed a boy.
- Students circulated an anonymous phone text that called her a “slut”, with the request to forward to “everyone you know” to get her to leave the school.
- Social media magnified the problem, so that she could never escape the taunts, not even on weekends.
The Tragedy of Bullying
Bullying like this is child abuse by children, facilitated by increasing access to the internet and social media. When children make the bad choice to bully, everyone pays. The victim’s family has to live with it, and wonder why they did not pick up on the cues and do something more to protect their child. The bullies have to pay for it because, whether or not they are suspended from school or even prosecuted, they have whole lifetimes ahead of them to live with the consequences of what they caused.
The Path to Change
Let’s not think of “fixing” bullying. Laws, regulations, school procedures and parental monitoring of a child’s internet activity are all to the good and we firmly support these, but — what does a child or teen know or care about these? They live in the present and their world is full of emotions, hormones, and the desire to fit in. We must go where they are and reach out to them on their wavelength.
This requires character education on tolerance, empathy, diversity and the language of acceptance. Kids need real stories of situations they are likely to encounter, and interactions with people different from them who can share real experiences. They need relevant UPstander guidance in order to examine their own behavior and assess that of their peers. They’ll take much better care of themselves and each other if they are given access to respectful social behaviors to do so.
Other News Resources on This Story