Yes, I put the title of this post in all caps with exclamation points because I'm yelling. I'm actually screaming. If you could see me, and if it would help, I'd be jumping up and down and waving my arms. And then I'd get right in your face. Like this [ ] close.
If you don't respond well to yelling, please don't tune me out because what I'm about to tell you is important. So important that hearts are on the line, self-worth is on the line, even lives are on the line.
The community I live in is in crisis. We have an epidemic of young people who, for whatever reason, are in such pain that they're thinking death is preferable to the pain they're enduring. Death! I know we're desensitized by the things we see and hear in movies and on the news, but do you understand what I'm saying? We have kids that are in such pain that they think removing themselves from this life--from their families, their friends, their potential, their future--is preferable. They're going to miss out on laughter, interesting classes, falling in love, holding their own baby, feeling the accomplishment of a good job, great concerts, exciting vacations, contented evenings at home, spiritual experiences, opportunities to serve and uplift others, and so much more.
I'm not privy to every detail about every one of these kids who have committed suicide or have attempted it. I personally know one sweet girl and one young man and I'm aware of their circumstances. I've heard of the circumstances of others, but some I have no idea. What I do know is that for at least some of them, they were the victims of unkindness at the hands of others, and in this digital age, some of that unkindness has been dealt out by their peers via social media. I'm going to share with you a couple of examples that I have first-hand knowledge of.
1. Earlier this year, my son was part of a group message with a bunch of his friends. My son was on his phone silently reading the texts from the group as they came through. Then he groaned.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I hate this group message thing."
"The guys are just bagging on each other."
"Really? What are they saying?"
He proceeded to read to me from the string of messages. It started out with boys debating the merits of the different sports they play. Hocky is preferable to soccer or basketball, etc. Then it escalated. Boys were calling each other names. Then a few of them decided to gang up on a boy that figure skates. When he said figure skating required many of the same skills as other sports, he was mocked. And I don't mean a gentle ribbing. I mean things that horrified me.
"Have you said anything?" I asked my son.
"No. I've just been reading them."
"You need to say something."
"I usually just stay out of it. Once in a while I tell everyone they need to stop ripping on each other, but I don't like getting involved. I wish I wasn't on the group message."
I appreciated that he recognized the awfulness of it, but at the moment, when one boy was being targeted in such a cruel way, that wasn't enough.
"Sometimes it's best to stay out of things," I said. "But sometimes you have to say something. You have to stand up for the one who's being bullied. It's what Jesus would do."
My son left the room for a few minutes and when he came back, he said, "Does this sound okay?" Then he read me his message. "Hey you guys, it's late and this has gotten out of control. _____ can play hockey _____ can play baseball, I can play basketball, and _____ can skate. Everyone can do what they like and what they're good at. It's their own choice and calling each other names is lame. It's late and everyone's saying things they probably wouldn't say to each other in person, so let's just turn off our phones and go to bed." Then he turned off his phone.
I cried. Because I'm a baby and I cry all the time and because I was so proud of my son. "Good job. That took courage."
"I prayed about what to say," he said.
2. I know of a girl. She's a talented, beautiful, funny girl. She has shiny, gorgeous hair and one of the prettiest smiles you've ever seen. There was a time in history, before we became completely obsessed with skin and bones, when she would have been called Rubenesque. (the definition of rubenesque is a woman who is full-figured, curvy and shapely. A plus-sized model with beautiful curves is an example of someone who would be described as rubenesque). This girl has a friend who is shaped similarly. A few days ago, she and her friend were devastated when, as they were hanging out with some friends, (she has a crush on one of them) and they got hold of a guy friend's phone (as kids regularly do) and read a text conversation (as kids regularly do). In the conversation, this boy and a couple of his friends (including the crush) were discussing the girls they know. The first line was a little thrilling. "_____ and _____ are cool girls." "Yeah, too bad they're chubby."
And then the conversation continued and two beautiful, talented, funny, clever girls were left feeling horrible about themselves. Incidentally, at least one of them started a diet the next day. This is a sixteen year old girl who should be thinking about dancing, not dieting. She should be laughing, not crying.
When was the last time we picked up our kids' phones and read through their text messages? When was the last time you looked at what they're posting on instagram or facebook or twitter? Don't give me any crap about privacy and trusting your kids. If you're not checking up on them, you can blame trust and privacy until you're blue in the face, but I know what it really is. You're lazy. It's a hassle to go through hundreds of text messages. It takes a lot of time. And then what? If you find something inappropriate, then you have to address it. It's just so much easier to convince yourself that your kids wouldn't do anything wrong. It's just simpler to assume your kids' social media presence is uplifting and above reproach.
But I have news for you. You took on the job of parenting your kids and you have a right to know what they're doing.
Forget rights. You have a freaking obligation. And then when you find something, you have the duty to do something about it. Teach them manners. Teach them kindness. Teach them sympathy and empathy. Teach the value of others.
I suppose it's possible that you never learned those lessons yourself. Maybe you're a rude, jerk who never learned tact and kindness. Maybe you're one of those people who mocks others for their appearance, for things over which they have no control. Maybe you're the kind of person who makes fun of handicaps and deformities. If you're a jerk who condones jerkish behavior, there might be no hope for your or your children.
BUT MOST OF US KNOW WHAT'S RIGHT AND WHAT'S WRONG. So please, please, I beg you, please, let's start paying attention. Let's start holding our kids (and ourselves) accountable. Let's stop being a source of pain for others and instead be a source of kindness and uplifting and good will.
I've spent the last several days mourning as one more boy--a beautiful boy with a world full of potential--chose to end his life. Would a kind word have changed things for him? Maybe.
Pay attention. Check up on your kids. Read their texts. Follow their social media. Make sure they're being kind and if they're not, love them enough to parent them, love them enough to teach them. Social media and cell phones aren't necessities. They're privileges. If they're being used in a cruel way, take them away. Love your kids enough to make them accountable for the privilege.
That's what it all boils down to. Love. The Savior taught love. We need to love enough that we rid our little corner of the world of cruelty and pain.
***To those of you who do monitor your children and take the opportunity to teach them, thank you.***