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Bullying And The Suicide Fantasy

16 Oct

A sincere word of caution to my fellow parents and to the genuinely well-meaning media:  We need to be very careful how we frame this discussion about bullies.  In particular, one thing about the discussion needs to change immediately, or some teenagers are very likely and literally going to die.

Without going into too much detail, I have some experience on this matter.  I was a pallbearer in the eighth grade for a friend who committed suicide.

Depending on who you talk to, my friend killed himself for a variety of reasons.  If you go by his very lengthy suicide note, he killed himself because of practically everybody around him including me.  Teenage love triangles, social rivalries, underhanded tricks, name-calling – it was all there.

Which piece of it caused him to kill himself?  Was it all of them?  Or none? 

I don’t know – nobody does.  It’s like when a kid would listen to a heavy metal band in his room for three months and then kill himself.  Was it the evil heavy metal music?

Doesn’t seem likely, when millions of others listened to the same heavy metal music and survived.  Similarly, although there is no doubt that bullying is a big issue, it’s well worth keeping right at the front of our minds that when it ends in suicide, there were almost certainly other factors involved.

In my friend’s case, there was definitely a lot of social bullying.  He was getting some of it, and he was dishing some of it out.  I was right there, and all I can tell you is, I caught it a lot worse than he ever did.  You want to know why he snapped and I didn’t, I’ll tell you it was because I was stronger.  That’s it.

Bullying is a fact of life, an extension of the same struggles for dominance that you see everywhere else in nature.  Because we’re rational, we can do something about it.

But it’s not a war on bullies.  There is a bully and a victim in every single kid out there, and just like the old Indian proverb about a good dog and a bad dog fighting in your soul, you know which one wins, don’t you?  It’s the one you feed the most.

It’s not just our responsibility as parents to be aware if our children are being bullied.  It’s our responsibility to be aware if they are the ones who are bullying.   We’ll never rid ourselves of the concept of bullying.  Some of it is ingrained right there in the school experience – Seniors vs. Freshman, girls vs. boys, school vs. school.

I go back to that time and find fresh, aching memories all the time, every time I see a story on the news about a kid who committed suicide.  And it gives me chills because I’ve been sitting around thinking about this for over twenty years, thinking about what goes through a kid’s mind when he gets to that point.

I’ll never know what my friend wanted, what he seemed to think would happen once he printed his note and pulled the trigger.  But I know that getting his note out to the rest of the kids – to the rest of the world – was his primary goal.  He did it, too.  He hid backup copies for his friends to find after the cops and psychiatrists had gone.  They didn’t want the note out, and he knew they wouldn’t want it out, so he was able to make sure that it got out – a smart kid.

A real waste.

All I can tell you is what I believe he wanted, and that was to be on the news, and to be famous.  He thought everyone would see what he had done, and then they’d punish all the people he told them to.  That the whole world would join hands and say, “Look what they did to this boy, these horrible, horrible people.”

And there would be nothing we could say.   

It seems like a common fantasy, doesn’t it?  I’ll show them, I’ll make them all sorry.  They’ll wish they never messed with me.

And I’m very, very afraid that we are playing into it.  That we are flirting with the glorification of suicide.  That thousands of lonely kids who are already thinking about it are watching right now, watching another kid who did it, seeing her picture on the news.  Watching her receive the sympathetic attention of the entire world, and coming down hard on the kids who were picking on her.

In no way am I suggesting that the conversation about bullying should end – I think it’s essential.  But we have to be careful before saying that the bullies are causing the suicides, because if we aren’t, a lot of kids who are right on the edge are going to think that being bullied justifies the barrel of a gun.  It does not.

What to do about bullying isn’t really my point.  My point is a very specific one – there has to be a way to create a meaningful and constructive dialogue about bullying without turning a handful of kids who made horrible, deadly choices into martyrs for the victims of bullies to look up to.  It seems statistically quite obvious that some of them are going to follow suit.

Just a sincere observation from a guy who remembers how an eighth grader’s casket handle feels against the palm of his hand.  This topic could not possibly get any more serious. 

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Earlier:  Night Side
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And later: Constructive Bullying Strategies

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 16, 2010 in Serious Emotional Beatdowns

 

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8 responses to “Bullying And The Suicide Fantasy

  1. sparrow1969

    October 17, 2010 at 12:21 am

    I was so sorry to hear that you had to deal with this…especially at such a young age.

    There was as girl from the next town over from the one I grew up in who was popular, smart and athletic. She killed her self in her car sometime in the middle of the night. Her car was parked just outside of town, right on the main highway. She wanted to be found, and she certainly made a statement as she used a gun. I have wondered if she calculated who might be driving by early in the morning…

    You see, living in a small town, it’s easy to know who does what, and when. Thinking back on it now, I think she wanted someone in particular to find her that way. Her death didn’t just affect her family, but also the whole town (around 1,000 people at that time). She planned her death for maximum effect, and she got what she wanted.

    I was bullied as a kid too – mercilessly. Why didn’t I kill myself? I was extremely miserable, and sometimes I wondered what would happen if I did…but it was a wondering, and not a true desire. I only had a very few friends who made me feel like I had any value, but I knew that my family would be hurt terribly, and I couldn’t have done that to them.

    You’re right. It’s something that needs to be talked about rationally, and not sensationalized.

     
    • thomaschalfant

      October 17, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Yes, I know that those sorts of details were a big part of what my friend did. We weren’t a small town, but we were a rural community spread out pretty thin. Everybody knew everybody.

      I don’t think the media is accustomed to extreme caution, and I do think that Ellen and Oprah and everyone covering it means well. We have to watch the message we’re sending about suicide. I never considered suicide and in fact after my friend’s death, for the most part, the bullying stopped.

      I’ll probably write more on this one..

       
  2. David Thyssen

    October 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I was a victim of bullying. I wrote about it in my blog: http://allthaticanleavebehind.blogspot.com/2010/10/bullies.html

    I think blogs are a great way to start dialog, and fortunately there are more ‘survivors’ out there than ‘martyrs’. Hopefully these blogs can keep the momentum going in the fight against bullying. Now that it is headline news, maybe a lot of kids can be spared of this. The best way to fight it, is having it out in the open.

     
    • thomaschalfant

      October 17, 2010 at 8:01 pm

      Yes, I agree that keeping it out in the open is a good strategy. It’s good that full-grown, well-adjusted adults can sort of confirm to bullied teens that it does get better. Thanks for commenting, I’m following the link after I put up my post today.

       
  3. Mandy Dortmund Mathis

    October 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Well said Tommy……
    I remember that day well, I was at track practice when we all found out. It was such a waste. I too, was bullied….I remember her perfectly and have to see her face on fb sometimes. She has kids now, makes you think what she says to them when they come home after a day of being picked on. On the other hand, I am quite sure I hurt people over the years and was considered a bully to some. I just had a conversation with a dear friend last night about this very subject. She and I taught 5th grade together, so we saw bullying every day. We did our best to help both the bullies and the kids being bullied. Fighting bullying in schools is a full time job. We both agreed that while schools/familes must keep fighting this war, they must also teach kids to be strong and believe in themselves. BUILD UP THE SELF ESTEEM. Listen, Be Empathetic, Be Supportive, Confront the Bullies, but most important of all, give kids the tools they need to believe that they are worthy of life, worthy of friends, worthy of sticking up for themselves and to keep telling until someone, anyone will help them.
    I hate that you and J’s friends have carried his suicide around with you for so many years. But you are right, bullying will never go away completely.
    Again, well said!

     
    • thomaschalfant

      October 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm

      My wife routinely goes into the school and talks personally with the teachers – asks them what’s going on socially. They tell her, too. This group of kids is into this, and this group is into that, and this boy sort of has a crush on your daughter, and she’s hanging out with a group of friends who isn’t really into boys yet, etc. Keeping an ear to the ground like that enables us to steer her away when certain groups start to get too bitchy and competitive – they do that, I’m sure you’d attest.

      We try to identify the positive friendships they have, the ones who aren’t fickle and don’t spread rumors or play little games, and then we try to reinforce those friendships with trips to the movies, the park, etc. And to increasingly frank degrees, they all know the story of my old friend, and how badly things can go. I’ve had minor problems with bullying on both ends, and so far we’ve managed to deal with them pretty well.

      It’s good to hear from you Mandy, I really appreciate your commenting. Yes, being an effective parent, getting the right messages across and getting them to stick is a constant, never-ending project.

       

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