Something was wrong, I just knew it. But I also understood, having been down this road many times before, that I had to wait until Sam was ready to talk. And so I anxiously exercised my patience, knowing the signs, all too well, that something was wearing on him. The constant deep-in-thought look, excessive sleeping, and verbally lashing out at the family were all symptoms of Sam being harassed and bullied. After four days he was finally willing to open up, sharing the pain of his latest emotional wound.
As a member of the high school pep band Sam is required to play at sporting events, most recently for the girl’s hockey quarter-final game. While sitting in the bleachers waiting to play, he glanced over to see a group of his fellow classmates pointing at him and laughing. He knew immediately he was the target of their ridicule because the group was comprised of some of the same boys who hurl derogatory comments his way on the days he musters the courage to eat in the high school lunchroom. He tried to ignore them, but glancing back a second time he was shocked to see several of them, still extremely amused and pleased with themselves, taking photos of him with cameras and cell phones, the purpose for which neither of us even wanted to imagine.
My heart broke as he shared his sadness, asking me why kids have to be so mean. I had no answer, my standard responses for such mean-spirited actions already having been used to exhaustion. And so I just listened as he exorcised the demons he had kept alive in his head since that day.
When he had completely purged the experience from his mind I asked, “What are their names?” My tone not masking my hurt for my child coupled with my anger toward those kids. But Sam, wise beyond his years, knew this was not a battle he had the strength to fight, and therefore simply replied, “I don’t know.” End of discussion.
In the wake of yet another school shooting in Ohio this week, which is already speculated to be caused by a history of harassment and bullying between some of the children involved, I share Sam’s experience with you as an example of the type of behavior students are exhibiting toward one another all across our country. Ugly, disrespectful behavior that is always at someone else’s expense, the cost of which, too high for any child or family to pay. In extreme cases the consequences culminate in violence, while in other incidences children choose to harm themselves or simply sink into a pit of despair and depression. As for Sam, once he revealed what had happened to him he became physically ill and is now missing a day of school to recover his mental and physical health.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I will join forces with anyone who is willing and able to pull out all the stops to put an end to this blatant disregard for common decency and respect.