Bullying Is Prejudiced Abuse

They were children – two just 13 years old, two 15. One was a young adult in college, a young man who had no idea he was being videotaped during sex.

What they had in common was they were taunted, humiliated and bullied for real or perceived “gayness.” And now they are dead.

Why does it take a rash of suicides to wake people up to a real problem in our country?

Dr. Donna Burnett, a psychologist who practices in Kailua, talks to kids who have endured bullying, to kids who have been bullies, and to their parents.

She has a clear message for everyone: “Bullying is abuse.”

Do not tolerate it.

And because the recent suicides have involved the issue of sexuality, she has another message: Stop confusing our kids.

She says kids use “gay” as a weapon because they are told at home and in the community that gay is bad, gay is immoral, gay is “not natural.”

“I’ve had kids who’ve come in and said that in their counseling sessions,” Burnett says. “They can’t even tell their parents who some of their friends are because some of them are gay, and they don’t want their parents to stop loving them.”

I do think decent people everywhere are appalled whenever a child is tormented enough to actually take his or her life. But we may be blind

to what or who is actually at fault. Burnett says parents must look inside themselves at the lessons being taught – spoken and unspoken. Prejudice toward homosexuals is the norm in many homes, and backed up by some religions and by our country’s own policies.

Says Burnett: “Because of laws and rules – Can gays get married? Can they not get married? Who has rights? Who doesn’t have rights? – you know, these are kids, and they see adults are confused about it, so, how are they supposed to know?”

What other group is as legally marginalized? The conflicting message is: Well, yeah, I know it’s not OK to pick on people, but gays

are “not like us,” so …

Burnett emphasizes all bullying, gay-related or not, needs to be addressed. She says one of the worst things a parent can do is tell their child to ignore the bullies. The perpetrators will not “get tired” of picking on them, they will not go away. They will feel empowered to do it again and again.

Burnett has some practical advice for kids who are being victimized, and for their parents. She suggests keeping a record of “the four W’s”:

Who is doing the bullying? Where is it happening?

What is being done to you? When is it occurring?

Burnett says this accomplishes

a few things: It gives the child a way to take back some control; it provides “evidence” to take to the school; it gives the school information it can use to investigate.

And what if you find out your child was one of the bullies?

“The issue is, oftentimes kids will come home and say, ‘Oh, Jack was bullying one of the kids today.’And the parents will say, ‘Well, you weren’t participating in that, were you?'”

Burnett says that’s a sure way to shut down the conversation. “They get the message right away that you don’t talk to your parents about it.”

But it is important to talk about it, she says, “because they might not know how to get out of it, because these are their friends. And they want their friends to like them, and that’s important.”

She advises asking specific questions: “So where were you when Jack was doing this? And how did that affect you? What were you thinking when he was doing that? And did you call him gay, too? And you were doing that because you felt that is what everybody was supposed to be doing?”

Burnett feels this is the right time to discuss empathy with your child.

“If they’re not taught empathy,” she says. “they’re not taught how to put themselves in the place of the other, they’re only thinking about their side of the box.”

For the bullied and the bullies, the message should be clear: This is abuse. This is not OK. It is not acceptable.

And everyone has a responsibility to do something about it. jmoonjones@aol.com

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