Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bullied Disabled Boy Commits Suicide

Far too many still see bullying as a right of passage in childhood, but it has proven to have terrible consequences.  Though schools claim to have a zero tolerance policy, bullying happens everyday.  More often than not, the kids that are targeted are vulnerable and marginalized.  How many children have to die, before we start to take this seriously? 

I firmly believe that bullying starts and ends in the home.  Kids that are being subjected to corporeal punishment are more likely to be violent with their peers.  Another source of bullying comes from parents who refuse to social justice parent.  You need not actively teach your child racism, sexism, homophobia or disableism for them to internalize and normalize these terrible isms.  Silence is enough for them to internalize their various privileges and act upon them.  As parents we need to teach our child to respect others and this means actively engaging them about the isms, and not shucking our responsibilities by claiming that we are ruining their childhood by talking about adult matters.

If you doubt that this is necessary, read the story of Mitchell Wilson:
TORONTO - Mitchell Wilson worked so hard to be a normal, happy-go-lucky kid.

Lord knows fate didn't make that easy. The 11-year-old lost his mom to cancer three years ago and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the following year. He never could run and jump like the other children. Still he always maintained that goofy grin on his face. He was a joker who loved swimming and go-karting, driving with his dad and making silly jokes with his younger stepsisters.

And Mitchell loved to walk. Six times a day, he'd be pounding the pavement around his Pickering, Ont., home because the doctors told him he had to "use it or lose it" -- that the only way of slowing the atrophy of his muscles was to exercise them. And while he used a walker at school -- more as protection from the jostling of his fellow students -- he proudly walked outside on his own, his young shoulders pressed back so that he could maintain his fragile balance and not fall.

"Everybody in the neighbourhood knew him. He walked in the rain. He walked in the snow," recalls his dad, Craig Wilson. "Every step Mitchell had to make was like 10 steps of ours in effort. I don't think I ever understood how hard it was for him to do the simple tasks.

"He tried so hard to make it through each day and he was so tired at the end that he could barely make it up the stairs."

Yet he never gave up -- until a young bully stole his will to live; a young offender who will likely walk free next week. (Read More)
Mitchell's story is getting lots of attention in the media today, but it will soon fade from the front page.  Reading what happened to this precious boy, it is easy to shake your head and acknowledge that a terrible wrong was done however, acknowledgement of the wrong, is not enough to ensure that something like this doesn't happens again.

We need to hold the education system accountable.  Children deserve a hostile free learning environment.  The very idea that Michell needed a protector at school disturbs me.  The children that were following him and tormenting him should have been dealt with - either through expulsion, counseling or detention.  Mitchell should never have had to fear for his safety or deal with harassment and bullying to get an education.

As parents we need to talk to our children about bullying and assert from the very beginning that it is wrong.  I personally have told my kids never to bully, and that if they see it happening, to draw a teacher's attention to the incident.  Bullying happens when people turn their backs and pretend they don't see it. 

Each time a child commits suicide because of bullying, there is an outpouring of grief in the media and the community to which the child belonged.  To me, it always reads like crocodile tears, because when the child needed help and needed protection, no one attempted to intervene. I hope that reading what happened to Mitchel will inspire other parents to talk to their children about bullying, as well as find out what their school's policy is on bullying.  Bullying does not have to be a right of passage in the life of a child, and all people regardless of their gender identity, sexuality, ability, race or religion, deserve to be able to go through life without being assaulted emotionally or physically.