Meet Eric. Eric was every parents’ dream: motivated, sincere, and well-rounded. He excelled in music and theatre. High school teachers lauded Eric for his intelligence and compassion. But thin, introverted, and painfully self-aware, Eric’s classmates at Mentor High School preyed on the boy’s sensitivity.
At first, Eric shrugged off the name-calling, better to ignore the merciless teasing. But, sadly, the harassment escalated into something more sinister. Pushing, shoving, and physical threats were daily realities. Teachers looked the other way, implicitly condoning the bullying. In a math class, a student glared at Eric and coolly remarked, “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself? No one will miss you.”
Eric internalized the pain; the bruises hardening into scars. Increasingly isolated, the earnest student and diligent son committed suicide. He was 17.
Mainstream culture, even more than the boys’ immaturity, victimized Eric. School leadership ignored the mean-spirited taunts and physical attacks. The instructors’ wanton indifference, rooted in Americans’ ethos of individualism, condoned the indiscriminate taunts and violence.
Undoubtedly, Eric’s suicide is a horrific tragedy. But, sadly, his death and the instructors’ callousness reflects society’s dismissiveness toward school bullying.
In mainstream culture, bullying is dismissed as fraternal. It is a “rite of passage” or “kids being kids.” As the bullying worsened, Eric’s options dwindled. He could have informed school administrators. But their response would have been cool; at sports-obsessed Mentor High School in suburban Cleveland, the same mean-spirited bullies tormenting Eric starred on the school’s high-profile football team.
Uncertain where to turn, a conflicted Eric confessed to his math teacher. Any reprieve from the relentless bullying was short-lived. Within days, the bullies resumed their verbal and physical assaults on the 112-pound boy nicknamed “Twiggy.” Foreshadowing his death, Eric confided in his mother days before his suicide. “I get picked on every day and I’ve got a whole nine weeks left. I can’t do this anymore.” Days later, Eric would take his life.
In this upper-crust community, Eric’s death rattled teachers and administrators. Mentor High School offered well-worn platitudes to Eric’s bereaved family. Much to the family’s dismay, however, school officials justified their inaction. Eric’s suicide was an “isolated incident,” an anomaly for the ritzy high school in the leafy suburb. Except it wasn’t. At Mentor, multiple students have committed suicide, citing the administration’s complicity in fueling a toxic, testosterone-fueled environment.
Battered into submission, Eric needed an advocate, an adult to provide reassurance and guidance. “Eric, you will get through these nine weeks and, one day, understand these cruel bullies hate themselves more than they could ever hate you.”
As Eric’s family grapples with the loss of their beloved son, Mentor needs to pay more than lip service to anti-bullying crusaders. One solution to the rampant bullying infecting high schools: a private hotline for students to call and anonymously report physical attacks or savage teasing. Trained counselors will staff the “warm line,” encouraging a reticent student to divulge his story. The counselor, serving as friend and advisor, will work with the disillusioned teenager on a measured, appropriate response. The warm line’s most important attribute: empowering the next Eric.
James, S. (2009, April 2). “Teen Commits Suicide Due to Bullying: Parents Sue School for Son’s Death.” ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/story?id=7228335
Temkin, D. (2013, November 6). “Bullying: Are We Back to ‘Kids Will Be Kids?’ The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-temkin/wisconsin-bullying-case_b_3867004.html.
Wilkins, E. (2012, October 9). “Bullying on the School Bus: When Kids Don’t Want to ‘Snitch’” Empowering Parents. Retrieved from https://www.empoweringparents.com/blog/school-bus-bullying-when-kids-dont-want-to-snitch/.