My daughter is 3 years old and in preschool. She is very social (I wonder where she gets that from? LOL) and her friends are very important to her. Her favorite article of clothing is a hand-me-down, floral dress with a green tulle skirt. She loves it because it looks like a tutu and it “spins” (which is a requirement for anything she wears *eye roll*). This dress is so worn out and every time she picks it out, I cringe. But she loves it, so as long as it’s clean, I usually oblige.
One day, she wore the dress and when I picked her up, she looked upset. When I asked her what was wrong she said, “_____ said that I was ugly and that my dress is ugly and that I should never wear it again.” Anger immediately swelled in my mommy heart and, of course, thoughts crossed my mind about calling her mother to handle it. After a few deep breaths, I responded with something like, “First of all, neither you nor your dress is ugly. You are SO beautiful and what she said was wrong. We do not say mean things to people or put them down. I know that is your favorite dress and if you love it, you should wear it no matter what other people say.”
That particular instance sticks out in my head as one that genuinely hurt her feelings, but it’s not uncommon for her to come home saying things about so-and-so not being her best friend anymore because she didn’t want to play. She’s my only child but I figure that whole best-friend-change-everyday thing is pretty common at her age. However, bullying about clothes and her appearance is a little more striking. SHE IS THREE!!! And I just think, is this starting already??! In the one-year old class she was the kid who had accident reports sent home on the reg because she was bitten or hit by another child. Just this week she came home with 3 marks on her arm because a child pinched her with her fingernails and the teacher assured me that Aubrey had done nothing to provoke it.
Maybe I’m an overprotective mother thinking too much into it at her age. But in my line of work, I see the impact of bullying as it carries into the teenage years. Social media has not helped anything but that’s a whole separate blog post. Y’all: Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 15-34 and the THIRD leading cause of death for ages 10-14(1). We all know that peers are some of teens’ biggest influences. When kids are bullied, including cyberbullying, it causes major psychological damage that, so often, goes undetected.
So what do we do as parents, teachers, pastors, etc.? First, we’ve got to take bullying seriously. Kids who are bullying, even at 3 years old, need to be taught how serious and wrong it is to put others down. In the school system, there should be consequences to bullying so that kids who are being bullied feel like something will be done about it if they tell an adult. Second, we’ve got to be more aware of what our kids are searching on their phones/devices, conversations they are having over text, etc. This will help us identify warning signs about suicidal thoughts or ideations, or if there is a peer(s) who is bullying and possibly even encouraging suicide. I have been so disturbed in recent news stories about teens who were encouraging, and even pushing, their peers to commit suicide. Mind blown.
I know I don’t really have any authority to speak on this topic because I only have a 3 year old. However, it scares me to death to think about her future and what she might endure. My husband and I do everything we can do tell her she is beautiful every day and to instill value in her because God created her in HIS image. We pray for protection over her heart. God holds her life and knows her future. We can only be faithful to raise her with as much love as we can as earthly parents.
In closing, here at Choices we want to face this issue head-on. We are incorporating more emphasis on bullying, depression, and self-worth in our high school classes this Fall per student request. We want our message to ALL teens to be: This time in high school is so temporary and short in comparison to your whole life. We love you, Jesus loves you, and He has a plan for your life!
- Center for Disease Control. “Suicide: Facts at a Glance.” 2015. Retrieved June 21, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf.