Advice I wish had been given to me in school, at church or by any kind of knowledgeable person when I was a child. I was bullied. A lot of people I know have been bullied. My youngest has been bullied. There are shitty people out there and we need to know how to protect ourselves in a constructive manner:
The story of Kennedy, sadly, is not a unique one.
Kennedy LeRoy, a 16-year-old student from Chino Hills, California, had Asperger Syndrome and suffered from bullying. He was an extremely compassionate young man who loved helping other people. He was famed for being able to sense pain in others and take it away. He felt joy from it.
On 12th June 2015, Kennedy went to his bedroom and took his own life. His parents, who were led to believe that the bullying had ended a long time ago, have been inconsolable. The news articles make painful reading, and the interviews with Mom and Dad physically hurt to watch. His suicide note- spread across social media at his own request- gives some heartbreaking insight into his life’s challenges. Like many people with Asperger’s, he did not just have Asperger’s.
I won’t lie- Kennedy’s story really affected me. And his story illustrates a problem that affects far too many youngsters. According to bullyingstatistics.org, 14% of American high school students have considered suicide, and 7% have attempted it. (In a country with over 300 million people, 7% of all high school students is an unacceptably large number.) I couldn’t find equivalent statistics for the UK, but the NSPCC reports that 45,000 British children talked to Childline about bullying in 2013. Of course, we don’t know how many more bullied children didn’t talk to Childline that year.
And of course, when we talk about bullying-related suicides, we don’t take into account the many teenagers who survive school in the literal sense, but grow up with a far more negative attitude to life than they deserve.
Kennedy stated that one reason for his suicide was to raise awareness of the damage that bullying can do, and indirectly stop other people from being bullied. A noble cause, and an idea that came from a wonderful mind… but (and I’m so sorry, Kennedy) the worst way of doing the right thing.
I’ll never claim to know the specifics of his life and depression, except what he wanted the internet to know. But I will say, without any doubt whatsoever, that the world would have been a better place if Kennedy had stayed in it.
But that’s what bullying, depression and anxiety can do to you: they can make you forget how valuable you are, and make you disregard your rightful place in the world. And now Kennedy’s gone, all I can do is help him in his quest to claw something good out of a dreadful tragedy.
So, here’s my attempt.
A few important points before we start:
- This article is not just for those who feel suicidal. It’s for anyone dealing with bullying or harassment at school.
- This article is not just for people on the autism spectrum (despite the title). I’d give this advice to anyone. But since I run an autism site, this is how I reach people- autistic or not.
- I was bullied at school, I grew up with Asperger Syndrome, and I made it to the other side in one piece anyway. The following is mostly a blend of advice I followed, and advice I wish I’d followed.
- There is a list of good bullying advice pages at the end of the article. Browse these too.
This is for you, Kennedy- and for all the others.
Eight tips on how to cope with bullying
1. Tell someone you trust
There’s a reason I’ve put this one first. It’s extremely important. And I firmly believe that if Kennedy had done this, he would still be alive.
His parents believed him when he said the bullying had been resolved. And they don’t blame the school for missing any signs of bullying, because the signs simply weren’t there. Kennedy had become too good at hiding his depression from the people who loved him. In his own words, “every time someone asked me how my day at school was, I lied straight through my teeth.”
So lesson one- if people love you, let them help.
First and foremost I’d recommend telling your parents (although there’s a list of alternatives below, for those who don’t have the kind of relationship that would allow it).
Of course, telling your parents can be difficult. Here are the biggest reasons teenagers keep their suffering to themselves.
Bullies try to shame their victims into keeping silent. Words like ‘tattle-tale’, ‘snitch’ and ‘grass’ were invented to keep good people silent. (Yes, in Britain the word ‘grass’ means snitching. Don’t ask why.)
But think about it- why would bullies invent words to discourage you from telling others? Because they don’t want you telling others.
And why don’t they want you telling others? Because it would be good for you.
So screw them. Tell someone anyway. They don’t deserve your obedience.
Anxiety issues stop victims from talking. I won’t lie, anxiety’s a bitch. I was ‘lucky’ enough to have it as an adult, and had a head start in learning some life lessons before facing it.
One of the most important life lessons I learned was this: THE BEST WAY OF OVERCOMING SOMETHING YOU’RE AFRAID OF IS BY BEING BRAVE AND DOING IT ANYWAY.
I used to be terrified of speaking to large groups. Later, I became a teacher who did it every day. That wasn’t magic. That was me having the bravery to speak to large groups until I became comfortable with it.
If you’re afraid of telling someone, decide to yourself that you’re going to be brave, sit down with someone you trust and ask them to listen to you. It won’t matter if it takes you an hour to put the words together. If they’re loyal enough for you to put your faith in, they’ll listen.
Victims don’t want loved ones worrying about them. That was me, through and through. I made that decision out of love.
And, looking back, I was wrong.
Because by not seeking help, I was doing more damage to myself . By trying not to worry people, I was giving them more to worry about.
Because if the situation had been reversed, I’d have wanted to know how to help them.
Because worrying about someone’s an important part of loving them.
Because what’s the point of building up a trusting relationship if you don’t use that trust once in a while?
And finally, because I was taking an opportunity away from people who would have loved to help me. That was its own kind of wrong. ……………………………………………. (stars added by me)
The rest of the article may be found on Autistic Not Weird