Again, folks. Again!
Police in Port St. Lucie are investigating the apparent suicide of a fifth grader. Celina Okwuone hanged herself in her closest Thursday night and was found by her parents with a belt wrapped around her neck.
Celina Okwuone, 11 years old
What could possibly cause an eleven-year old child to take her life?
Her diary that her parents found has the possible answer: The girl wrote that she was bullied by her classmates at St. Anatasia Catholic School.
My heart goes out to this family. Such a heart-wrenching and troubling story. But even more troubling is that it is not isolated. We’ve read too many of these heartbreaking stories in the past few months: children who are ending their lives because of the repeated torment they faced from their peers. There are so many of these incidents the term, “bullycide” has been developed. And we must, must, MUST recognize the severity of the problem and the horrific impact bullying has on a child.
The Impact of Bullying and What It Is
Bullying is vicious. It’s cold-hearted. It’s cruel. It is never acceptable. And make no mistake: it causes a victim severe emotional distress.[Read: Again! What Is It Going to Take to Recognize That Bullying Hurts? Proof!]
Bullying has no boundaries and impacts all zip codes: rural, urban, suburban. Though it is more prevalent in middle school years, it affects all school age children and both genders.
Bullying can be physical, emotional, sexual, electronic, or verbal.
Bullying always has a negative intent and is usually repeated.
And bullying always has a power imbalance. One child (the victim) is preyed upon by another (the bully). The victim cannot hold their own.
Bullying is responsible for childhood stress, anxiety, student health problems, depression, fear, humiliation, And bullying can be reduced.
A Call to Adults: Step Up, Wise Up, and Take Responsibility
The first step to ending this horror is for adults to wise up, step up, and get educated about bullying. No one time “assembly” or “stomp out bullying” poster will stop this violent behavior. Adults must understand what bullying is, review the research on how to stop it, get together as team, community, staff, parents and start some serious conversations about how to implement those steps and then commit and sticking to that plan. We must use ONLY research-driven programs. We must recognize that stopping bullying is NOT a one-time event or poster contest. We must also recognize that reducing bullying is an ongoing, systemic process in which all stakeholders must be involved. And we must recognize that at the base of bullying is a relationship problem. And adults must recognize that the affects of bullying can be lethal.
Bullying is real. I know. I returned just last month from working in community in British Columbia. One of their children ended his life due to bullying.
I still carry a photo of a precious sixth grade boy who hanged himself. His father handed me the photo of his son. “Please,” he said. “Don’t stop your message. Keep training teachers and staff on how to turn bullying around. It would have saved my son.”
I fear I have a lot more work to do.
In Memory of Children: Let Their Pain Not Go In Vain — Please!
In the past years these children and teens have ended their lives–hanging, jumping off a bridge, shooting themselves. Enduring horrific, repeated bullying by their peers is their common story. For anyone doubting that bullying must be stopped, look at these photos. Read these children’s stories. I place their pictures with their names and young ages to help give us a dose of reality.
Ty Field, 11, of Oklahoma who shot himself. His father feels it was because his son was bullied.
Phoebe Prince, 15, of Massachusetts who hanged herself after she was repeated bullied by her high school classmates. Even after her death her tormenters wrote vicious notes on Facebook celebrating that she had died.
Jaheem Herrera a 5th grader from Atlanta who hanged himself after coming home from school. His parents say it was because he was constantly and viciously bullied by his elementary classmates.
Eric Mohat, 17, of Ohio who was harrassed so mercilessly in high school that when one bully chanted: “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself, no one will miss you,” he did.
Ryan Patrick Halligan, 13, Vermont, who committed suicide after repeated bullying and cyberbullying.
Jon Gettle, 14. of Iowa, hanged himself in from of his middle school. He left a note that stated: “Bullying is a problem.”
Bullycide is not just an American problem. It is impacting industrialized countries of the world. The website, Child Bullying School Bullying, Bullycide lists UK children and young people who have lost their life or been driven to suicide because of bullying at school or bullying during their school years. It is chilling.
- Steven Shepherd, Newburgh, Lancashire
- Brian Franklish, England
- Debbie Shaw, 12, England
- Roger Hillyard
- Stephen Woodall, 12
- Kelly Yeomans, 13
- Katherine Jane Morrison, 16
- Hamed Nastoh, Surrey, BC
- Dawn-Marie Wesley, 14, suburn of Vancouver
- Gilles Moreau, Edmonton, Alberta
- Emmet Fralick, Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Greg Doucette, Brampton, Ontario
Enough, folks. ENOUGH!
What more do we need to recognize ENOUGH!
Next blog: Ways to Start a “STOP BULLYING” Initiative in Your Community, Neighborhood or School…Today!
Here are a few past blogs I’ve written on what schools and parents can do to help prevent another tragedy.