Mitchell Wilson has been on my mind a lot this past week. An 11-year-old boy who was minding his own business, Mitchell was dealt a bad hand of cards when he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and months after having been beaten up by a bully classmate and having his iPhone stolen from him, felt driven to kill himself. Eleven years old. Suicide.
Even more horrible than the actual beating incident itself was the aftermath. The 12-year-old thug was arrested and moved to another school. “Victory for Mitchell,” you would say. Not so. The bully’s friends – feeling the need to avenge their buddy’s punishment – then proceeded to follow him home from school and taunt him for his physical disabilities caused by MD. The poor child was tormented.
I was victim to bullying in elementary school. Never to the point of being beaten, thank goodness. A classmate physically initimidated me into giving her my snack every morning at recess; she basically just grabbed it from my hands and walked away. I recall every morning feeling a knot tighten in my stomach as I packed my snack. Thankfully, she ended up going to another school after that year. I never told anyone. Like most kids probably feel, “What’s the point? If I tell, she’ll just end up beating me up.” Wow, that must be how women get stuck in abusive relationships.
The irony is, that same girl ended up in my ninth grade accounting class in high school. I didn’t get the sense she even remembered me (or maybe she was just pretending she didn’t because she was ashamed, I don’t know). She appeared to be a nice enough person in ninth grade, not a “mean girl”. What might have happened had I chosen to confront her? Would it have started a cycle all over again, or would she have been remorseful, perhaps even unaware of the impact of what she had done? (I wouldn’t say I was scarred by it, so is it even relevant?)
There is now talk of a new approach to handling bullying in schools called “no-blame”. The aggressor is not punished because this is not deemed an effective way of showing them that what they did was wrong. Instead, this approach promotes more remedial action: dialogue with the victim’s parents, for example. It argues that bullying is – at the heart of it all – a relationship problem, and that without knowing the circumstances that led the aggressor to take the actions they took (an abusive home, alcholic parents, etc.), it is unfair to label and punish them – they would never learn about how to take the right path this way.
I had to think about this for a while. If I were in Mitchell’s parents’ shoes, you’re damn right I would have instinctively wanted his aggressor arrested and thrown in juvy. Instead, Mitchell’s father said he would have preferred that the boy perform community service with disabled people and read his victim-impact statements. Upon reflection, I can see how this perhaps might have more effect on the boy, because unless he was born with no empathy genes (because some people are – see Clifford Olson), surely he would come around and understand that what he did was so wrong in so many ways.
As a parent, my worst fear is letting go of DQ. The moment you let her go into the world (yes, even if it’s just JK!), you lose control of the elements. The thought of DQ being a victim to bullying is frightening (or just as bad, becoming a bully! You just don’t know!). You hope your child can be like Little Red Riding Hood and stand up to the Big Bad Wolf. But your protective shield goes up like a lightsaber and all you wonder is, “Shouldn’t I just be home-schooling?” But socialization is what makes the world go round and the reason Facebook is as ubiquitous as it is today. We are richer as a society because of it. But damn, it’s scary out there sometimes.