There’s this teenager I know. She’s brilliant, way mature for her age. She reads books I read and discusses them with a level of intellect and understanding that never fails to amaze. Let’s call her Emily. Then, I received the news yesterday …
Due to suicide speak, cutting, and bulimia, Emily has been placed in a special care facility. She’s only thirteen. When asked what caused all this, Emily admits it was bullying.
Once upon a time, Emily dated the middle school star. He was an athlete and popular kid, whereas Emily was quiet, snarky, and smart. She only recently discovered her preference for girls. In fact, Emily broke up with Mr. Popularity to date a girl, but beware the delicate egos of teenage boys.
Emily’s ex-boyfriend built an Instagram account for the sole purpose of terrorizing her. Via that account, he sent message after message:
You’re going to hell.
Sadly, Emily started to believe this boy’s vitriol, and although she probably had some simmering depression issues already (as do many girls going through puberty), this bullying pushed her into a deep, dark hole where suicide seemed the best recourse.
The eating disorder flourished, too. Emily began counting the amount of carrots she ate. She started watching her mother cook dinner, making sure she didn’t use too much butter. Even when she did eat, Emily soon disappeared to purge. She lost thirty pounds.
Eventually, the cruel Instagram account was discovered, and the middle school principal kindly asked Mr. Popularity to stop harassing Emily. The principal spoke to the boy’s parents but not Emily’s. Apparently, Emily wasn’t important enough to enter the discussion. I’m sure the principal assumed she would be fine. A little bit of bullying? No big deal.
Well, she’s not fine. Her parents can’t leave her alone for fear of what she might do. She spends her days at the care center on a strict diet, surrounded by 12-18-year-old kids like her. They attend support groups and talk through their problems. Emily hopes to return to normal school by the end of March.
But what awaits her then? More bullying? Will Mr. Popularity come back for more? Will the principal acknowledge the bullying? Will the principal care? Will anyone care?
A couple weeks ago, a local sixth grader committed suicide by slitting her wrists. This was not a passive attempt; this was violent dedication. I don’t know why she chose to end her life, but I do wonder how a sixth grader arrived in such a dark place.
It seems like a vague broad stroke to blame society or social media, but I don’t know where else to look. When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t know what suicide was. I was most concerned with my grades, not my mental health. Shit, I didn’t know what “mental health” was. Kids today do. They’ve become experts at being sad, confused, and sometimes cruel.
I’m scared for them. I want to hug all of them, especially Emily as they treat the sores in her throat from months of purging and keep her away from sharp objects. This little girl has so much promise—a truly amazing youth—and some dumb idiot bully robbed her joy and distorted her self-image.
I don’t have answers. I do think about that old CSNY song … “Teach your children well.” Mr. Popularity might have earned a little slap on the wrist, but I doubt he understands the full ramifications of his actions. I’m sure he doesn’t know the destruction he caused, but maybe if he did, he would stop bullying instead of moving on to the next victim.
Similarly, it appears discussing mental health needs to happen early. When I was in elementary school a hundred years ago, we never talked about depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Maybe we should, just so kids can understand that there is help if they’re sad. However, flip that coin, and educating them early might impart the knowledge to hurt themselves. How much do we want our kids to know anyway? How early are we willing to lose that innocence?
It’s all just a mess. I wish I knew what to do. I wish I could help Emily—and I do try, as best as I can, but it’s not enough. Cutting can be perceived as an addiction, and we all know addicts won’t get well unless they make that choice; other people can’t make it for them. Maybe that’s what Emily is going through now. She must decide to put the razor down and eat again, and I hope she will. The world is a much brighter place with her in it.
Please listen to your kids. Keep an eye on them, but don’t hover because that will undoubtedly push them away. Love them. Just love them.