We commend the Sioux City Journal for its bold opinion piece in response to a recent teen suicide. The response enveloped the entire front page of its April 22, 2012 Sunday paper. It is time for all of us, across the country, to take the opportunity to reflect on this latest, tragic loss of a young life and the strong response by The Journal.
Kenneth Weishuhn, may he rest in peace, was a 14-year-old boy at South O’Brien High School who killed himself after repeated harrassment for coming out to his friends about being gay. We agree in particular with the Editors’ conclusion: How many times has each of us witnessed an act of bullying and said little or nothing — because we feel it’s not our responsibility? When will we realize we are all in this together?
But we respectfully disagree with the Editors on a key point. While we believe schools should be key partners in a serious effort to drive the kind of change our children deserve, we strongly believe that parents must be the leaders and drivers of this change. Now.
As parents, we are our children’s first, best, and forever teachers. Our children model the behavior they see from us at home from their earliest years. As behavior expectations continue to slacken at home, schools face steeper challenges in teaching our children — and it is time for schools to speak up. When schools see parents who fail to recognize their responsibilities and who fail to contribute to the peace in our school communities, action should be taken by school leaders in concert with parent leaders to compel these families to understand the gravity of their decisions — and how they impact us all. And parents, as difficult as it is, we must speak up to our own fellow parents as well. Too many times we fall silent as adults, speaking in hushed tones in parking lots or on our cell phones about the negative behavior of others. We need to find the courage to speak up in our communities, peacefully but assertively.
Why does the issue of bullying continue to draw such raw reactions from so many across our fair land? Because we have yet to see — as adults, as a society — that we are all bullies, all targets, all bystanders. We have yet to grasp this concept as we stand witness to funeral after funeral, and in tearful conversations at kitchen tables night after night all over our communities. When will we come to understand that we are all part of this ongoing painful problem and therefore ALL part of the solution?
As the Journal beautifully stated: Stand up. Be heard. And don’t back down. Together, we can put a stop to bullying.