This is not the typical blog that I write for The Learning Child, but I feel that all parents will benefit from hearing this message from the heart of a parent.
The school where my child attends hosted an all school assembly this month on bullying and cyber bulling. Parents and community members were invited to attend, so I took the opportunity to go and hear firsthand what the message was about. I truly wish every parent could have heard this message from Mark and Joni Adler as they spoke from their hearts to tell the story of their son Reid, who was a victim of cyber bullying.
The Adlers introduced us to their family and told how they always strived to keep their children at the center of their lives. They described Reid as a good kid who followed the rules and befriended everyone he met. He was the kid who always looked for the next fun thing to do. Nevertheless, the Adlers also told us that Reid had made a mistake when he was in middle school. Reid took a photo of himself on his phone that should never have been taken, and sent it to a girl. Reid never told anyone about this mistake, however, the girl ended up using the photo to blackmail and manipulate Reid, threatening to make it public. The manipulation went on in such a way that Reid ended up taking his own life.
Reid Adler was close to his parents, and they could see that something was bothering their son. They opened the door for him to tell what was bothering him, and they had even sought counseling together after Reid had told his mom that sometimes he wondered if life was worth it. Still, Reid could not bear the thought of embarrassing his parents, friends and community, and did not tell about the photograph.
Suicide, according to the Child Safety network is the second leading cause of death of people age 15-24 in Nebraska. Mark and Joni Adler told me that they talk to student groups as Reid’s parents, not suicide prevention experts. They hope to share this story to arm students with what to do if they are ever in a similar situation.
Joni told the students that day that we all make mistakes. Even your parents, who might seem to have it together now, have made mistakes. She said she believes that we all experience different things so that we can learn from one another. As Reid’s mother, she gave this advice to our kids that day; do not take inappropriate pictures. She also told them to follow their intuitions. She said that she feels that Reid probably had that moment before he hit send that he second-guessed sending the photo. She asked students to trust their intuitions, as they are usually what tells us that something is not right.
Joni’s next piece of advice was for students to pause before they say something, ask themselves, is it truthful and is it helpful. If the answer is no, then don’t say it. In her words, “Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to shut our mouths.” She said to the group, that some of the kids in attendance might be the bullies. It’s human nature to hurt back those that hurt us, but she asked them to stop. Mrs. Adler stated, “If we keep up this idea of an eye for an eye, we will all go blind.”
This mother’s message is that we all have value and that it does not come from possessions or their family life. She stated, “No matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, you still have great worth, and no mistake is worth your life.” She advised the students that if they ever think of attempting suicide, talk to someone they can trust such as a parent, teacher or other trusted adult. She then said that parents can’t help you if you don’t let them in. She ended by saying that suicide is not the end of pain, but rather the transfer of pain to those who love you the most.
Mark Adler then took the stage to tell the students that this message is about leadership and courage. Everyone has someone looking up to them, and at school, taking leadership means saying that you will not accept bullying, no matter what. Courage is being able to step up and tell the bully that we do not do that here, and telling adults if we hear of bullying or someone talking of suicide. Courage is also telling someone if you are having those thoughts. Parents cannot help unless they know what is wrong. In closing, he asked the students to be the leaders and have courage. He asked them to remember that they can always reach a little higher and to go a little farther in kindness, leadership and courage.
I cannot begin to reproduce the powerful story that I heard at the school that day, but what I can say is that it has changed my life as a parent and as a professional. I tell my parent education groups and childcare providers to be the hands that hold the child, be the hands that allow the child to go out and explore, and be the hands that also welcome the child back in when they are struggling with a need. Last week in a parenting group I asked this question, “What do you hope for your children someday?” One of the parents said they hoped that their child would always feel welcome to come to them no matter what.
From the heart of the parent who writes this blog today, my hope is for all families to communicate this openly so that our children will come to us with their joys as well as their struggles. We have all made mistakes, learn from them and talk about them with your children. Listen to your children when they come to you in delight, and when they come to you with the struggles, even if it is not comfortable for you.
Click this link if you would like to hear more of The Adler Family Story
Another great resource on bullying from Nebraska Extension is this Cyber Bullying Neb Guide
The University of Nebraska has also been a part of the Born This Way Foundation. Check out this link for more information as well as the related articles on bullying available here.
LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child
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