I was taken aback by his question. It seemed to come from nowhere, but this question must have been circling around in Eric’s mind for quite some time before finally finding its way out.
“Are you worried he’s going to be bullied?” I asked.
Replied my husband: “You were a victim of bullying.”
As I describe in my memoir, Dwarf, when I was in high school, a teacher singled me out and humiliated me in front of my classmates when I wanted to participate in the Sports Medicine team. Subsequently, yet not surprisingly, the administration failed to take any action to stand up for me.
Up until this point I’d never considered what I would do if my son were to be bullied, whether by a teacher or by a student. I never considered the possibility that Titan could be bullied, period. I’ve been so consumed by his adorable toothless grin and smiling eyes to think much beyond tomorrow. Do other first time parents worry about their child being bullied one day? If so, what are they doing about it?
“You talk about as if you were stuck in Folsom Prison,” Eric continued.
I couldn’t help but press the release button on my switchblade tongue. I cocked back my head, slipped on my sunglasses, and impersonated Johnny Cash. “My fellow inmates were wonderful. I just don’t like some of the wardens.”
But Eric was serious and growing impatient with my humor. “When Titan comes home and tells us his teacher is mean what should we do?” he repeated. A hardcore marine, Eric wanted to draw up a battle plan.
I spent the remainder of October researching anti-bullying groups and taking note of organizations geared towards stopping bullying and hate crimes. I learned that October was National Bullying Prevention Month. I read article upon article about student-on-student bullying. But I found very little regarding cases that involved a teacher. Why is this so? Why does it seem no one is talking about this? Perhaps, because too often those who are bullied by a teacher are asked not to talk about it?
This is exactly what was asked of me by the school administration.
Armed with my own experience and with the knowledge of how administrations may react (or fail to react), my husband and I have drawn up our own attack plan, because the possibility for Titan to be bullied is very real and very scary. It’s not that I feel Titan has reason to be a target, but I am acknowledging that as a little person there may be a time he’s harshly teased about it. Why? I don’t know why. Why does anyone do or say anything?
Disturbingly, according to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying and sadly 160,000 kids are too afraid to go to school and they push to stay home instead (bullyingstatistics.org). With this blowing around in my mind, I envisioned the worst—Titan waking up early on a school day, the bright twinkle faded from his happy eyes as he begs me to keep him home, because he is too afraid.
I can’t take it.
The first step, my husband and I agreed, needs to begin with Titan. He needs to know what abusive behavior is, because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. And he needs to know he doesn’t deserve it. He needs to know he shouldn’t be silent about it even if the abuse isn’t happening to him directly. We’ll need to teach him to speak up about bullying, no matter the form. Kids and teenagers are killing themselves over bullying. According to the CDC, suicide among young people is the third leading cause of death. And bully victims are between 2 and 9 times more likely to consider suicide (bullyingstatistics.org). This is a rampant epidemic that goes far beyond my experiences and I want to pay it forward and do something to help.
The second step is for my husband and me to be strong advocates against discrimination in a positive, inspirational and educational way. This begins inside our own home. And it includes the simplest of aspects, like our use of language. Also, as a physically disabled mom, I may have an upper hand teaching Titan tolerance and acceptance. Not everyone accomplishes tasks in the same way, and that’s what makes the world we live in unique and exciting. Movies, games, books—there are so many informative ways to show how differences make us beautiful. Hell, I’m a writer! I’ll think I’ll create my own story for him.
Our third prong of attack is to reach out to others and get involved. As a family we need to join anti-bullying organizations targeted towards stopping bullying and hate crimes in our community. www.niot.org is a great area to begin. There is power in numbers. We need to organize events and inspire others to take a stand. We need to talk about it. If the lines of communication are kept open students can share their experiences with bullying and discuss ways to prevent it with those in their school and in their community. Specifically, I think parents need to be unafraid to make a few demands from their child’s school, too. Like www.stopbullying.gov suggests, parents should ask the school faculty to keep them abreast with what’s happening and treat them like a partner in the growth and development of their child. Whether it’s beginning a school safety committee or appointing a coordinator to foster more parent and youth activities, parents need to be actively involved with what’s going on . Without a doubt I’ll be joining the parent teacher association and volunteering with any school event I can find. If I’m informed as a parent about what’s going on I won’t be left in the dark about the issues facing my son.