Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stop Glamorizing Suicide

*Update for further clarification added below

You won't like what I'm about to say.  It's controversial, it's straightforward, it's the dialogue we should be having instead of having pity.  Another day, another suicide from bullying.  It's parents fault, it's the school's fault and we all take sorrow in a child/teen dead.

Every time we glamorize the suicides (most notably from bullying lately) we are telling kids, "Aw, poor thing, I'm going to give you the recognition and sorrow you should have gotten in your life".  Kids on the edge are being pushed over by the notion that they'll get famous, in my truly honest not-so-humble opinion.  Even a decade ago, suicide was shameful.  Not to mention two, three or four decades ago.  I experienced the full realm of bullying from having my homework stolen out of my hand and no teacher willing to listen, to being thrown from my desk (or it toppled with me in it), hair pulled, spit on because I was a heavy girl (not even obese at the time, just not a stick), because I refused to go anorexic, a double whammy in wearing glasses, a triple whammy in being poor and a quadruple whammy in having a messed up family.  I was taunted, teased, physically harmed, every day of my school life until I got so fed up (even with my straight A's) that I stopped going overall.  Parents even hated me because I addressed them as Mr. and Mrs., which they felt was trying to suck up to them.  The early boyfriends I did have ended up dumping me sometimes because of the pressure they faced from peers taunting them about being with the fat, ugly chick.

I did want it to end, but I could never move to that stage.  I didn't want to bring my family the shame.  Even now, in some really rough times in my life, I can't do that to my kids or my husband.

I experienced a suicide from someone very near and dear to me.  A good family man, who did it not from depression or bullying but because of the early stages of Alzheimer's and medical problems that he felt would have been a burden on the family.  It was heartbreaking but I understood in a unique way.  His problems he couldn't move away from, he wouldn't grow out of them.  He would be surrounded by it and in turn, surround those around him in an awful, debilitating disease.  I don't know if I agreed with him all this time later.  I know I loved him in the seemingly short time and I felt cheated since there weren't a lot of examples of good men in my life. 

Then I read of these children and teens and I read the responses to them.  It's almost insulting in a way that I know many can't understand.  You see, everyone is ready to pity the committer.  Ready to say "I would have held open arms" and "I would have never judged" and then we say cursory comments about that awful bullying and move along.  Those kids experiencing the same thing see the notoriety and acceptance the committers get.  They get front page news, trending topics on Twitter, and "repost this" shares on Facebook.  Every time we add hundreds of comments, sweet messages to the trending topic and our own messages of pity each time that story is shared is displayed openly, almost proudly among those kids who see it as a way out.  Each time it makes the circles, it makes it easier for them to do, it desensitizes them to the horror and shame and the sorrow left behind for each family.

These stories and comments fail to look for why the child wasn't taught to handle the conflicts, wasn't taught that it's a dumb thing to do and they fail to openly show in full horror how the family has to cope and the sheer terror of a parent finding their child in the stages of rigor mortis.  We need to show the parents seeing it, reacting to it, the way their body will look after they are dead (not so pretty bloating, sometimes body fluids around them, and rigor mortis).  They don't see the effects because we as a society keep saying "Poor Johnny" instead of showing Johnny the filmstrip on how to just say "screw them" to the kids saying dumb things and the film strips of what really happens after you are dead and what parents really feel.  Show a strip showing a mother walking in on a body almost unrecognizable, hanging from the ceiling and show the screaming, terror and anguish.  Show that mother losing control hourly for the next days and weeks as she prepares to bury her child.  Show the real effects of committing suicide.

Now, I say it's the parents fault.  But not in the "they should have noticed" theme people keep wanting to say.  It's in the "teach your child to handle conflict" vein.  Parents spend so much time either completely ignoring teaching their children social skills or spend so much time pushing onto their child they are special, unique and no one is better than they are that the children have no skills to realize they aren't the best at every single thing, not everyone will like them and they are incredibly ill-equipped to handle real social settings.  Not every child should get a ribbon and accolades.  We need to teach them to handle losing, handle failures and stop coddling them every single time something doesn't go their way.

In fact, the bullying doesn't really change focus throughout an adult's life.  There will always be people that hate you, people that envy you, people that try to keep you down, people that say stupid things in stupid ways (true or not) and you will spend your life climbing social and career ladders.  You will need to schmooze the people you can't stand.

As for the school's fault, again - not in the way you think.  Zero tolerance policies are stupid.  Each one is too open to interpretation.  You ask how zero tolerance is open to interpretation well, at what age do we start expelling kids for hugs and high fives.  What is the exact phrases that are not allowed?  Can you make a list of what's not acceptable?  No, there are billions of words in the English language.  We need to stop with the "love everybody" crap because even if it is successful, that's not how the real world works.  Start teaching kids to handle conflict.  Someone says something you don't like?  Teach the children how to respond correctly.  Frankly, there are very few things that you lose your entire job over and it's usually not gossip or the dumb crap kids say in schools.  It's mostly direct insults to bosses or the company that are cause for zero tolerance.  It's not the school's job to teach the kids social skills - that's the parent's job and I think it's the schools fault for trying to push kids into being 100% nice all of the time.  It stops children from using their anger and rage in good ways as motivation.  We are telling them they are perfect little angels that can do no wrong and deserve everything good, whether they earn it or not - and telling them to keep their feelings to themselves and just to "deal with it" in keeping that dialogue inside.

Stop glamorizing suicide.  It benefits no one.  Stop putting every kid (some who arguably didn't even experience real bullying, but the lame "that outfit is ugly" type of comments) on a pedestal every time they off themselves.  Start calling them what they really are, selfish kids who refused to go for help.  Almost every case that one can read about, very very few were rebuffed by all their family, all their friends, every single school staff member and every single social service available to them.

*Update: I would like to add, thanks to several comments to me, that these thoughts do not pertain to the incidences of suicide among those with true mental illness.  I had thought my writing flow would portray this piece to be among those without any history of mental issues, however I failed miserably in giving the picture of the teens I was speaking of.  My blog is aimed at being about teens who have experienced bullying, or events that would in general just plain suck - but that we need to teach them to overcome and to use their feelings productively, and to cope with these problems.  Problems never just go away on their own.  It doesn't go away when you get out of middle school or high school.

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