Columbia, PA residents came together last week for a vigil for Jasmyn Smith, an 11-year-old girl who took her life due to bullying. The 11-year-old died from self-inflicted wounds. According to her family, she choked herself with a belt after being heavily bullied both at school and online for a year and a half. The superintendent of Columbia Borough Schools told CBS 21 that he didn’t know of any bullying involving the girl. But kids at the school say the bullying can be pretty bad (read the news story here).
While it’s heart warming to know that the community has stepped up to support Jasmyn Smith’s family, we can’t help but ask: Where was the “vigil” when that child was being bullied?
If the community really stands together, as one community member said, where were they standing when they failed to stop the bullying and protect a vulnerable child from being tormented? Skip the useless vigils – stand up when it counts!
Unfortunately, the city of Columbia, PA is not alone. This is a predictable, formulaic response – ignoring (or not stopping) the bullying until a crisis or tragedy happens, followed by hand-wringing, mock surprise, and a vigil (Google the bullying-related suicide of Phoebe Prince, not to mention the ones listed in the news article). When are we going to change this pattern?
And throwing money is not the solution, either ($700,000 to a bullied bus monitor or $40,000 for plastic surgery to a girl bullied because her ears were the wrong shape or angle). The money is guilt payment; the damage is already done. The only solution is prevention: don’t bully someone in the first place. If everyone who contributed $1 to those funds instead made the commitment to spend even 10 minutes every day paying attention to insure that everyone they cross paths with is being treated respectfully and kindly (even and especially when there are differences and disagreements), a MAJOR positive shift will occur. Prevention is easy; recovering from this kind of tragedy, impossible.
There is a big cost if we miss the early chances to intervene in kids’ bullying and set things back on the right track. The early chances are the easy and cheap options. Clean-up, damage control, and punishment are never as good as prevention.
There will never be enough metal detectors, school suspensions, or lawsuits to stop bullying. You have to catch the kid before he (or she) takes the gun to school or commits suicide. And by “catch,” I don’t mean just finding the gun before it gets to school or catching the girl as she’s putting the rope around her neck. I mean connect that kid to his caring community, early on, so the thought of needing to bring a gun to school never enters his or her mind.
Why are we so bad at prevention? Adults and kids miss or fail to act on hundreds of clues that are in plain sight. Watch some of the forensic look-back tapes on Columbine or similar tragedies (Columbine is the most extensively studied in North America).
We make a million excuses for everyday bullying and harassment: “It’s just kids,” “They’ll grow out of it,” “What did you do to deserve it?,” “Your child is just too sensitive,” “We’ve done everything we can to solve this problem,” “Not my child,” “There’s no bullying problem in this school/team/group of friends,” “Why bother? The real world is full of exclusion.”
Adults don’t get involved until there’s serious emotional or physical injury or a tragedy. Sometimes, a lawsuit motivates action; again, too late. Then we have a memorial luncheon or a candlelight vigil. And set up a Facebook memorial page.
It is heart wrenching to read about children that are bullied. Thank you so much for reaching out to people who are involved or have gone through something like bullying.
Thanks for commenting, Olga. It is so important to help people understand that bullying is never OK – not for children, not for adults.
Such sadness surrounding this subject. It’s time to wake up and open our eyes. Bullying is getting out of control. Your blog is a good resource.
Thank you, Martha. The bullying of children is really an adult problem. We say bullying is bad, but then by our actions give them the message that bullying is OK. It is time for people to wake up and see what is happening all around them.
It is hard to think about a child being tormented in that way. As a former teacher, we would discuss bullying and other social topics in the classroom. Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem, but the more we communicate about any issue to our children, the more they understand the importance of treating everyone with kindness. Thank you for the reminder.
I am so grateful to be connected to someone who is taking a stand and helping those who are bullied. Its such an epidemic it seems. We really need to get back to a more balanced world.
It breaks my heart to hear about these young people taking their own lives. But more than that it makes me mad that so many can stand by and watch as children are being bullied. Thank you for all the good work you do.
Lorna, to what extent have we changed our adult behaviors so much that our children are interpreting them as permitting or promoting bullying? Or is the message coming from movies, TV, music, etc.? Where is it coming from? I don’t have children so don’t have my finger on the pulse at all. I just don’t know how we lessen it if we don’t know where it’s coming from …
It is indeed heartbreaking to read or to know about children being bullied. Thanks for sharing this post 🙂
Jasmyn I miss you so much babygirl. Its hard to believe its been a little over a year since you have been gone. We all think about you everyday, you will always remain in our hearts. As for the person that wrote this, She was scared too tell anyone. If you knew her personally you would know that. She tried too reach out to the teachers and they did nothing, they brushed it off and said everything will be ok. So it wasnt the community because we all loved her very very much. Her teachers should have said something too stop it when she went too them about it. Bullying is everywhere and it is heartbreaking that you cant even rely on most of your own teachers. We lost a girl that I knew since she was a baby because of the school. Parents need too pay more attention to their children so they dont feel the need to bully other children. they need to teach their children that it is not ok. I could not be more happy that Jasmyn’s story is out there and people can read it. Hopefully her story will make a difference in some childs life. Fly high Babygirl <3 You are greatly missed forever and a day