My 17 year old son and I were having lunch today at Applebee's, while we waited for the car to have some repairs. I had asked him, "did you take your Lactaid?" (He keeps it in a pill fob on his key ring). He smiled and said "Nope, I haven't had to take it for about three weeks". I looked at him with a raised eyebrow and he knew I was going to ask why. He responded by saying "Since I quit playing rugby, I've not had the gut wrenching pains after eating, no diarrhea, no nausea". While this made me smile, that his immediate problem seems to have been taken care of, it made my heart hurt.
For as long as I can remember, my son as been the target of bullying. He was a quiet, introverted little boy. He often chose to play by himself, rather than with others. He had different interests. He was a nurturer and as a little one in play school, he was often found in the play kitchen, holding the baby doll on his hip while cooking a meal on the pretend stove. (He's going to be a kick-ass dad someday!) This often led to teasing, even at this age!
When my son was about six, he had his socks pulled up pretty high and had on a matching shorts and tank top outfit (thanks to me!). This neighborhood child said, while I was at his side, "Hey! Are you gay?", to which my son replied "Yes, yes I am!". He didn't realize he was targeted as being different for having his socks pulled up and a matching outfit. I told him, loud enough for the other child to hear, that being gay is not something that anyone should be teased about and if he is, I'm proud of him for knowing that at such a young age. *smile*. I then shot a look at the other child and reminded him that people can be different and still be awesome. I know it was lost on him, but I had to say *something*.
My son liked to grow his hair long. It was something that caused a tremendous amount of teasing over the years. One incident that still causes him pain was in 5th grade, when they had the "talk". The boys were teasing and taunting and telling him he was in the wrong room, that he needed to go with the girls. I told my son, look at all of these incredible, famous men, who have long hair. (I named people who were popular musicians, athletes, and actors), but it didn't matter. What mattered was what he was hearing every day in the halls, in the locker room, in the restroom at school.
The tormenting and bullying got so bad that my straight A student started feeling ill every day. He would be sick for weeks at a time. He missed a ton of school. He wanted to play a few sports, but the teasing continued, if not escalated, there. He started cutting. He said it was a way to release himself from the pain he felt inside. He felt like he wanted to die. No parent, EVER wants to hear that.
Finally, we made the decision that home education was the best. He didn't return for 6th grade, to public school. He wanted to try cyber school for 7th grade and we did that for a couple of years, but for a number of reasons we returned to traditional home education (parent created curriculum) last year. He also returned to sports, specifically rugby.
I started attending his events. I noticed he was always on the outside of the group. I asked if he was ok, if he had friends. I noticed some signs of depression. I saw signs of tremendous anxiety. We visited the doctor, then the psychiatrist. He started medication. The symptoms worsened. I knew in my heart the bullying was starting up again.
We went to a sporting event, out of town, and I witnessed, first hand, the horrible way he was treated by his peers. I was PISSED OFF. He and I talked about it and he wanted to finish out the season. I told him I'd support that decision, but went to as many of his games as possible. I wanted to be a barrier from these youth who were breaking his spirit. Some said oh, kids will be kids. He had to develop thick skin, he needed to grow up, etc. I'm sorry. This is uncalled for. This is bullshit. This isn't happening. I'd advocate for anybody's child to not have to endure this.
His anxiety worsened. He was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. He was ill and couldn't make nearly every practice. His school work suffered. His depression worsened. He lost his interest in EVERYTHING. This beautiful child wanted to play again this year. What the hell!? I agreed, but told him if the bullying starts up again, that's IT.
He had a pretty decent summer. Things were under control. As soon as practice started in the fall, the symptoms all started coming back. He then admitted to me, the bullying had started up again. After school hours, before coaches arrive, the taunting, teasing, about the length of his hair, how pale he is, stupid things. My child was growing his hair out, because he LIKED long hair, went and got a buzz cut. He was BULLIED into getting his hair cut, just like that. He was popping Lactaid like it was candy. He needed Zantac. He finally made the decision to stop. This was the BEST decision he ever made.
We are three weeks into this and he is happy again. He hasn't needed a Lactaid. He has attended numerous social functions.
Please raise your boys to be the kind who hold doors for people. Raise your boys to play in toy kitchens and carry babies on their hips. Raise your boys to not tease another for how they look or if their hair is long or short. Raise your boys to be respectful and appreciative of differences. If we all looked and acted the same, the world would be a very boring place, wouldn't it?
Let's take a stand against bullying. Talk to your children about it. My son could very well have completed suicide due to these situations. We are fortunate that I was aware of what was going on and got him help. If you are being bullied, get help. If the first person you talk to won't help you, go to someone else. This must be stopped.
Keep our schools, neighborhoods, communities safe. Thank you.