Two teenagers, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, committed suicide recently after being taunted and bullied repeatedly and relentlessly while officials at their schools did nothing. Unrelenting harassment led a third, Eric Mohat, to commit suicide a few years ago. Again, school officials denied there was a bullying problem. Yet he was one of four bullied Mentor High School students who committed suicide that year.
All three were harassed as gay. None was.
These three boys are just the most publicized tip of an epidemic that’s sweeping our schools.
The Use of “Gay” as Part of the Harassment and Bullying Kids will use whatever differences they can see or invent in order to gang up and attack a scapegoat. The teen bullies used whatever came to hand or mouth – their hatred of gays. In one sense it wasn’t about the truth of whether the targets were gay, which would be bad enough, it was about the truths that kids will use bullying tactics and these never learned better and these weren’t taught better. Let’s not waste time analyzing why they bullied; let’s simply acknowledge that these kids failed in their character and their duty to become better, and the responsible adults never stopped them.
The Bullies’ Parents They failed in their own character and were derelict in their duties to stop their children’s behavior and to teach them better.
The Administrators, Principals and Teachers The principals and school district administrators didn’t protect these boys, just like most principals don’t protect most targets of bullying and abuse. We need school anti-bullying laws to force principals to act and also to protect them from counter suits by bullying parents trying to protect their beloved little terrorists (like Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” series). Of course, without specific laws, even well-meaning principals are caught in a bind. But that’s no excuse. When people are determined, they forge ahead. When they don’t want to act, they talk about all the difficulties.
The Bystanders In every school, the other kids knew and many watched the bullying firsthand. Some were probably drawn to participate in the bloodletting. That’s the path of least resistance. Few, if any, reported it to teachers or to their parents. None of their parents responded effectively. There was no public outcry before the suicides. Again, there’s a huge failure of character and courage.
I work with parents and principals who dedicate themselves to stop bullying. They insist on effective laws and also make the laws work effectively.
At the same time, as these examples show, we also can’t and shouldn’t count on schools to protect our children from hurt feelings. We must help our children develop the inner grit and resilience to know how to protect themselves from verbal harassment as well as from physical abuse.
Act now at your own schools; before this epidemic spreads further.