Only You Can Stop Bullying

We had a terrible tragedy happen this past month in my community. A former student at my son’s school took his life because of cyberbullying. His name was Ronin Shimizu, and he was twelve years old. He was the only boy on a cheerleading squad, which I suspect is the source of some of the bullying. Out of respect to his family, I have not sought out any further details. What I know is enough. This was a senseless tragedy and my heart breaks over it.

Ronin
Ronin Shimizu, age 12

Kids acting cruel to each other, misunderstanding, not accepting, and to what end? Do people feel better about themselves by hurting others? Anonymity does not give anyone permission to be hurtful and irresponsible. Insults given over time in large doses shared among the masses can do serious damage, inflicting wounds unseen on the other end of a screen.

I did not know Ronin before this happened, and my son had never met him, but as I write this, I well up with emotion. This year, Ronin had been homeschooled, I imagine to get away from the bullying. My son learned about Ronin’s suicide in school, although I don’t think they talked about it in those terms. It was too painful. Some teachers discussed it in class and others could not, too saddened to speak. At the end of the school day, a formal announcement was made by the principal. I had heard about it from a friend, so I understood why my son might seem down when I picked him up. He seemed a bit shaken and we talked about it on the way home, although he didn’t say much. I mentioned he could talk about it at anytime if he needed to.

Today, when I told him I wanted to write a post, he didn’t feel I should because it was too emotional for any more to be said about it, especially for the family, who has my deepest sympathies. Words cannot comfort here. I would give anything to change the situation.

But I wanted to write about it because writing helps heal at a time like this. And, for other reasons:

Because deep-down, I know what it’s like to be picked on. I remember when I was always the last chosen for the softball team for PE in grade school. I may have been scrawny, but I wasn’t horrible. I now know that I had low self-esteem, but I didn’t know it then. Adulthood gives perspective we can’t know as a child.

Because it’s not enough when I hear people say that kids will always be bullied and that it will always happen. We cannot accept this. We need to call out this behavior. Passive watching is the same as doing nothing and only encourages the behavior to continue.

Because cyberbullying knows no boundaries, and its reach can increase exponentially with each share, intended to inflict harm; a reminder to act before it escalates to an uncontrollable level. Time matters greatly here.

And because I have a message to bullies out there. As humans, we are mostly alike: 99.9% scientists now say. That 0.1% difference is what makes us unique and what we should all celebrate. Know you are no better than anybody else and you’re not much different. We’re all human and in this together.

But mostly, I was moved by the selfless actions of a solitary woman standing in the rain, holding a sign that said, “ONLY YOU CAN STOP BULLYING.” Meet 25-year-old Erika Lee. Soon after Ronin’s passing, she appeared at the corner of the entrance to my son’s school every morning at dropoff, waving and smiling as people drove past. I would wave back with tears in my eyes, even though I felt comfort in seeing her there everyday. Here she stands in the rain:

Image Source: KCRA.com
Image Source: KCRA.com

She’s a hero in my book.  Day after day, she was there. Even after four or five consecutive days of rain, the most rain California has seen in a long time, she stood. Soon, people brought her coffee and the media did a story about her. On the last day before the winter break, I wanted to meet her and thank her, and maybe even ask a few questions. I parked my car, walked over, and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to me, and we hugged. Immediately, I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t even form a sentence and apologized. She laughed, and said, “You should have seen me the other day.” She is an amazing, gracious person with a big heart.

She, herself, was bullied as a teen, and she wants kids to know they can talk about what they’re feeling, and that they are not alone.

Erika with a few friends.
Erika with a few friends.

I admire her compassion and for bringing awareness to bullying. She wants “to keep the memory of Ronin, and of those out there who experience his pains, those who feel alone, those who feel trapped, and have no where else to turn.” She will be back at the school after the break. Her long-term plan is to open a facility where kids and families can turn to for help; whether one is the victim of bullying or the one who bullies, everyone needs help.

She is standing up to bullying with such positive energy and courage. She told me, “I just want to make a difference.”

Erika, you have made a difference, and I know she continues to inspire so many.

Let’s stop this. Be watchful. If you are ever a witness to bullying, don’t just stand by, stand up!

Click HERE, if you would like to contribute to the Ronin Shimizu Memorial Fund.

For more information:
On Facebook: Ronin’s Voice and Folsom Cordova Stand for the Silent.
Find more information about cyberbullying at Cyberbullying Research Center.

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64 thoughts on “Only You Can Stop Bullying

  1. poor kid – the internet can reinforce evil sometimes.

    As a young boy in band, I witnessed a horrific bullying session that I didn’t intercede to stop. Since then, I have stood up for others when bullied so it proves we can change and make a difference. As to why do people bully others, most often merely because they can.

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    1. The Internet can be an unsafe place, and an evil place. Unfortunately.

      I think we all play a role in the consequences of bullying. Watching it happen is the same as allowing it. I’m glad to hear that standing up for it made a difference. If people get away with bullying, they will continue to do it. Thanks for your comments, Bill.

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  2. Hurray for the heroes who choose to stand in the rain and make noise, like Erika, and her too few, but still many, friends. Thanks for this sad but hopeful post, Amy. Mean kids must be made to know that their actions are serious. Mean adults, too.

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    1. Thanks, I hope this is a message to make things better. I’m so proud of Erika. It’s easier for people to continue on with their lives. Her presence was a reminder that we need more awareness around bullying, and that kids can talk about it and it’s not them that’s the problem. Adults can be mean too, especially online. I get pretty mad when I see people being so hurtful. Words do matter.

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  3. This is a wonderful post Amy, congratulations on making it and I applaud your support on anti-bullying. Erika is right in saying ‘Only you can stop the bullying’ so many times as a teacher I was confronted by students and parents with complaints of bullying only to find thay wanted to complain but not reveal the source of the bullying. It is a most frustrating situation and so often I said to students the very same thing, that only they could stop what was happening to them. I have known students stand up to bullies and seen how much the bully is made uncomfortable by those actions especially when that student attracted the admiration of so many for what he did.
    It is incredibly painful when events such as you describe occur Amy but you hope that out of the pain comes some good. I hope Erika achieves her goal because at one time or another we have all been bullied in some way.

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    1. Thanks, Michael. I think of this message of Erika’s and feel it applies to everyone. Kids may not want to talk about what’s happening to them if they don’t feel safe. In this case, cyberbullying follows you no matter where you are. There, the boundaries disappear. Bullies definitely need to be called out. I agree. I think more awareness around the issue will help, too, and knowing that it won’t be tolerated.

      Thanks for the reblog!

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  4. Sadly, social networking — established to bring people together — has in many ways created a much larger divide by allowing faceless commenting and bullying. There is a disconnect between the mouth and fingers spurred by a sense of anonymity, particularly among our children. “Text speak” is becoming the norm, and with it we are losing the sensitivity factor that used to accompany conversations once held face-to-face. I can’t imagine what Ronin’s parents are going through with such a senseless, tragic loss. Nor do I want to imagine. All I can muster is thoughts for their healing, an appreciation for your post about this.

    Thank you, Amy.

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    1. Social media is a mixed bag. If it is used with good intentions, it can be a wonderful thing. Much of the sensitivity is lost if kids are wanting to be popular or respond to things quickly without thinking first about what is being said. Or things can be easily misunderstood. I worry about that myself sometimes. Like you, I can’t imagine what Ronin’s parents feel. As I said, there are no words. I hope some good can come from it. They do need more counselors. We say this after a time of tragedy. They are always the first jobs to go. We need them back. Everyone needs help here. I’m glad I wrote it then. Thank you, Ned.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Like you I remember always being picked last in PE, because I was the smallest. I was also very shy and awkward, so yeah I got picked on a lot. Been there, done that, and survived. Bullies tend to back down when faced with their bullying. So we need to teach kids not to stay silent. Stand up and shout about bullies. Talk to adults, other kids, someone. The more it’s in the open and the light shines on the bully the better. Great post Amy.

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    1. Oh, you know the last picked syndrome too. I remember feeling that it became this normal thing. I was always picked last, so it became the habit to do so. It just continues in this cycle, and people think you might just no longer care. But really, nothing is further from the truth! I can see how bullying, on a much bigger scale, might start to feel this way, as if well, it always happens, so people can look the other way. Absolutely, kids need to feel they can talk about it, and feel safe in talking about it too. Thanks, Jackie. Thanks for your comments.

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  6. I can’t even imagine the pain that boy’s family must be feeling. As a mother of two sons, if I think about it too long, I can hardly breathe. As you allude, bullying should not be seen as a ‘rite of passage,’ and yet so many still think the issue is being blown out of proportion. Instances like this show just how traumatic it can be for a child. Good for Erika for bringing attention to it and good for you for blogging about it. There can never be too much awareness raised for this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a good way to describe it, Carrie, feeling like you can hardly breathe, and knowing it can happen to anyone. Everyone is vulnerable. I’ve felt pretty overcome with sadness. I hope this post can keep the awareness alive. I think it’s incredible what Erika has done. I’m sure her actions have had a great impact on kids there, too. I agree there can never be too much awareness. Thanks, Carrie.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree that a young boy committing suicide is absolutey tragic. I don’t know the cicumstances but I suspect there were other factors besides cyberbullying. I was bullied as a kid. Back then there was no internet. Bullying came in the form of punches and kicks not keystrokes. It was not fun but I certainly did not contemplate suicide nor did most of the othe kids who were bullied. Bullying doesn’t cause suicide. A sense of hopelessness and an inability to see past one’s present suffering is what causes one to take his/her life. If it’s not bullying it will surely be something else for someone in that state. The bullies may not be blameless but surely some of the blame belongs to the parents who failed to teach their children that life just sucks sometimes and that you have to accept the good with the bad and eventually all things pass and it will be good again. Instead they shelter their children from that reality causing them to become so overly sensitive that an online insult makes them want to permanently check out of this world.

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    1. I think everyone handles bullying in different ways. My post is not meant to analyze so much as it is to promote awareness around bullying and cyberbullying. While punches and kicks hurt, so can words, especially if they are shared with large numbers of people, and their sole purpose is to inflict harm. I really don’t know the circumstances, as I mentioned, nor do I feel it is relevant in promoting awareness around the issue. Too often I feel people accept that bullying is something that just happens. I don’t accept that. Kids need to feel they can communicate what’s happening in a time of need. Many may not have that.

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      1. You may not want to accept that bullying is just part of life but it is. And, to a certain extent, it is necessary, especially for boys. As I said, I was bullied as a kid. I actually feel I’m better because of it. I was a pathetic, weak child with no social skills. Being bullied help to build my character and made me a stronger person. Kids today are way too sensitive and many would benefit from an occassional ass kicking. I’m not, in anyway, minimizing this boy’s suicide in saying that. It’s a terribly sad thing but if it wasn’t mean words online it would have been a bad grade or his parent’s divorce or his grandmother dying or a girl breaking his heart.

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      2. I’m so sorry you were bullied as a kid, and that you are so cynical about people changing their actions around bullying. I disagree that bullying is just a part of life. There are certainly more positive ways to build character than to be bullied. Certainly, you can’t argue with that. As far as kids being “too sensitive.” No, kids need to be more sensitive. I’ll give you another way to look at this. As human beings we don’t have to resort to violence (ass kicking) and have the power of speech and forethought. We can make choices about how we act and they don’t have to be cruel choices. I think it’s about education and giving the kids tools to talk about bullying, and giving them resources and a place to go if they need help. I think that would be a step in the right direction. Suicide is a delicate subject. I know many people who have thought about it, but have not gone through with it. I don’t see them as people who will do it eventually some time in their lives either. Hope has brought them back.

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  8. “You should have seen me the other day.”  A true believer, standing out in the rain for 4+ consecutive days.

    She may inspire, but takes courage from anyone and everyone to fight it.  Bullying is disgusting and shouldn’t be tolerated.  Don’t be a bystander, people!  Stand up to harassment!

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  9. When I first heard this story, I sobbed just imagining the pain. My son is the same age and is a very sweet, sensitive boy himself so Ronin’s story really affected me. Just looking at his photo makes me cry. I was picked on as a kid, never really felt like I fit in. Eventually as I got older I came to accept my differences and view them as strengths. Erika is an amazing woman and hopefully more of us can stand up for kids that are bullied or made to feel different so this terrible heartbreak will end. Thank you for posting this.

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    1. I know. I understand, Darla. Believe me, I do. I cried a lot, too. I hadn’t seen Ronin’s photo when I heard about it and when I finally did, I broke down also. I’m sorry to hear you were picked on when you were a kid. I know you are not alone. I was a quiet kid myself, and felt like I didn’t belong. I think even as an adult I can recognize that I like being solo a lot, and I’m okay with it. As a kid, you don’t have any perspective I suppose. Now you can see these differences as strengths, that’s excellent. If kids only could see that. Erika is amazing and a shining example! Thanks for reading and sharing. 🙂

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  10. What a tragic story, Amy, although I agree that Erika is a hero. As a teacher, it would kill me to see children being bullied, especially since I could only protect them in my class. I wasn’t even their homeroom teachers. Hopefully this situation will raise awareness and help to reduce bullying.

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    1. That’s true, David. Teachers can’t be everywhere, and at the middle school, they have so many students, about 200 or so. It’s crazy. It would be easy for things to get past teachers. I truly hope people will take a serious look at bullying and the way they treat each other. Kindness can go a long way. Erika is wonderful.

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  11. This is extremely tragic. Yet another bright and innocent youngster pushed beyond their limits or capacity to endure. Not only is this continuing to happen in our schools to our children, it also happens to us big ole grownups also. These bully types end up being our bosses and coworkers. They become our elected officials and leaders and fodder for moronic reality shows. They become our domestic abusers and murderers; Columbine comes to mind. I believe this bullying in childhood needs the highest level of attention starting with schools. Some things need to be in place to address this at the source.

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    1. That’s very true, Sally. Some people are bullies forever. If we could stop this behavior early on, maybe the world would be a better place. I remember there being a big push for bullying programs in more recent years, but obviously not enough has been done. And now with cyberbullying, that is a whole new territory. They need more counselors in place, and more places for kids to go to for help. Whenever there is a tragedy, people look at mental health. I’m thinking of some of the mass shootings, but then not enough is done. More resources would help. Thanks for stopping by. Good to see you.

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  12. I was one of the uncool kids in school, too. Not the best athlete. Kind of nerdy and geeky and insecure. I used to refer to myself as the gutless wonder because there was no way I was ever going to have a girlfriend because I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I would ask a girl out without experiencing the most severe of rejections. I don’t know that I ever really experienced bullying in any kind of significant way. Other than the standard ridicule and ribbing that all boys engaged in back in the day. But even that was pretty serious stuff at times and maybe I just didn’t know any better.

    The thing is I just don’t see as much of it in my kids’ experience as there was when I was a kid. There is so much more acceptance of the diversity of the human experience compared to when we were kids. Yes. There is still bullying and it can still be incredibly hurtful and damaging to the tender psyches of children, but I actually think we have made a lot of progress since you and I were children.

    The other reality is that it is one of those things that will never be wiped out. There is something that seems endemic in humans related to the need for superiority. I mean, hell, adults act like bullies. (The story I could tell you about a conversation I had with a co-worker behind closed doors and the way that he treated me.) So, it’s not just a thing that children engage in. But, yes, we should do everything we can to minimize it and make sure that those who are victims of bullying have a place to be safe and loved and respected.

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    1. I hope it has improved since we were kids. It’s hard to say since I’m not in their element. As a parent, I’m not even allowed on to the middle school campus. It’s kind of strange. It really feels like a foreign land to me. And now with technology and cyberbullying maybe it’s just moved and bullying has been reinvented. I have no idea to be honest. It makes me want to be more educated about it. I think that is our best defense. It’s education and more awareness around it. If we could imagine a world without bullying where everyone stood up and didn’t tolerate it. It’s hard to imagine I know. But the bullies have to be told they can’t do it. People look the other way and the behavior continues. That hasn’t changed. A place for kids to go to where they feel safe and could open up about their problems would be ideal, and I know mental resources are slim, as usual. That could be improved always. Thanks so much for your comments. I’m sorry about your work situation. Some people will never learn.

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  13. Erika sounds truly amazing. Bullying like this… hits home, just thinking about my kids entering the age where this stuff can happen. I don’t know how to help them, I really don’t. There are programs in school that talk about bullying, but there is so much more to do. Twelve-year-olds should be busy being twelve-year-olds, and that is all.

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    1. Yes, Trent. It’s just perfect that you said that. Kids grow up so much quicker with smartphones, etc. It happens so fast. My son will be twelve next month, so it hits home for me, too. They need to be outside playing. Maybe that should be my goal for the new year. They do have programs for bullying and I know my son’s school stepped it up recently. I think kids need a place to go to, also. I think Erika’s idea is brilliant, considering that schools don’t have many counselors anymore either. They need more of that too.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This terrifies me. It hits very close to home. With two autistic children in the family we have had to deal with them being bullied from day one. Teachers and family have been diligent in watching for it. You question your choices, you question their motives you question mankind. Now as they enter those difficult years of puberty it seems to effect them more and now we watch for signs to prevent them from taking Ronin’s path. Thank you Amy for speaking out and introducing us to Erika and what she is doing.

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    1. The world is a scary place, isn’t it? It seems to be getting more so, or do I say this because I am a parent? Cyberbullying and any bullying scares me. Kids’ lives are fragile. I know a few parents who have taken their kids out of school due to bullying. You try to protect them as much as you can, but it is impossible to be there all the time, especially with cyberbullying. You can take away their social media, but is that realistic? I mean, things can happen so fast. I feel for your two autistic kids in your family. I’m so sorry they’ve had to deal with bullying. Schools try, but are short on resources. This is why I think what Erika is doing is so important. She really has kept it in everyone’s mind. I’m so proud her.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I just can’t bear that these things happen, I can’t even find words to express how awful it is, and how much it upsets me. I almost didn’t want to read this post when I saw what it was about, but hiding away from it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, and it is so important to speak about it – you never know which one person might read it, and do something different as a result.

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    1. I know it’s difficult to read about, Vanessa, so I appreciate you reading it. However difficult it is to talk about, I think it’s important to put it out there. It’s about awareness and hoping to improve efforts to stop bullying. Some people just say that it will just always be, but I think we can all do better than that. When I talk to Erika about this, she mentioned she waited through the weekend before standing in front of the school. People may want to come back after that weekend, and move on, and put the painful memory out of their minds. She said, “No, I need to do this.” I’m so glad she did. We need to remember it, so we can do change people’s attitudes. You’re exactly right…someone might do something different as a result!

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  16. Here’s what happens to me when I read this stuff: It makes me want to drive down there, find the kids who are responsible and mash their fucking faces in. I’m sorry. Violence isn’t the answer and it never will be. But here in anonymous blog land we say what we feel, right? I hope the parents of those little monsters are proud. I wish infertility on them because, clearly they don’t know what they’re doing.

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    1. I totally get you and understand. How can we not be angry about this? It’s absolutely tragic. I’ve been very upset about this. You can say what you feel, by all means. Please vent if you need to. You said probably what many people have felt. Going forward, we have to change people’s attitudes about bullying. Even after this tragedy, I have people saying, well, there will just always be bullying. But clearly it is about choices that people make. People don’t have to be cruel. I don’t accept that.

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      1. I can assure you that things are changing. My girls have been taught about bullying since they were in kindergarten. I can sense a movement.

        Fun story: My daughter came home from 1st grade one day and said she was being bullied. I was furious. It turned out she was telling everyone what to do and they wouldn’t listen to her. Hence, she was being ‘bullied.’ I can totally see her doing that, too.

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      2. Schools have made the effort to put anti-bullying programs in place. That’s a good thing! We just more of this.

        Now that’s a story I like to hear! Yay for your daughter. Good for her! That’s very cute. 🙂

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  17. Sad story, Amy, but hopefully there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. The message will eventually get out there. Sooner rather than later from my perspective: bullying – in any form – is wrong. One small step at a time, and change will happen.

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    1. Thank you, Tom. I like your attitude. One step at a time and change is entirely possible. I think there has been improvement, but obviously not enough. Bullying is never okay. Thanks.

      Happy New Year to you!

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  18. I’m so touched by this and teary-eyed — especially when you speak of your own experience. What a sweet little boy — how sad this all is. Erika is wonderful for drawing attention to this in this way — what a spirit of light she is.

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    1. I’m so touched by your comments.Thank you. Yes, a spirit of light she is – yes! It is so sad. I’m just hopeful that more awareness can brought to it and that people will be more considerate, more sensitive, and more accepting. Isn’t it about time? Kindness sure feels so much better. If people only knew that. Thanks for reading, Sandee. Happy New Year to you!

      Like

  19. We hear from youths daily on their struggles with bullying but many feel there is no hope. When bullying no longer ends just at school but with social networks and cyber access, it has no bounds…A great post of awareness…

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    1. It is a frightening situation when bullying enters cyberspace. I hope this post at the very least brings awareness to this issue and that change is possible. I appreciate the reblog. It’s fantastic you gave additional information for people to access. That’s awesome. Thank you for that.

      Like

  20. Reblogged this on Stop the Stigma and commented:
    Bullying affects every youth around the world as you will read in this post by Amy Reese Writes. There is help for bullying even if you think it is not possible…reach out to a trusted adult, call a help line…Here is a number in Canada 1 800 668 6868 but the website gives lots of information and the on line counselling is an area where youths see that they are not alone. http://kidshelpphone.ca which is part of http://www.childhelplineinternational.org/about/ check this latter link for resources around the world for youths.

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  21. It breaks my heart that these stories continue, day in and year out. Painful and senseless, it really makes me feel deeply saddened. I wrote this in response to Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide, 2 years ago. Since then, the number of very young kids who have killed themselves, because of bullying, continues to grow. The entire Leela Acorn movement has touched me all week. An important post, Amy, and a topic we should all tune into. xo http://talesfromthemotherland.me/2011/09/22/call-me-gay-call-me-a-fag/

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it, Dawn. I was saddened to see your link about the same subject. (I’ll come back for a read). I like to hope people will change their attitudes about bullying. Even after posting this, some say, well, that’s the way things are. That saddens me, and makes me quite angry. We are better than this. xox

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We SHOULD be better than this, but I have my doubts, Amy. It seems to be getting worse, not better. I’m constantly shocked by the bullying I see by adults– not just kids! Often, parents seem to fuel the fire. It’s a horribly sad state of affairs, when such young kids really believe that their lives are so horrible, that death is better. I was really touched by your piece. xo

        Like

      2. I have to keep the faith, Dawn, and hope it’s getting better. What does it take for people to take bullying serious. Some say bullying was good for them or it’s something you must endure. I guess we’re not quite there with changing attitudes about this. I think you’re right in that it must start at home. People learn from example, and cyberspace is full of bad examples of adults mistreating each other. Where will it end and when does it stop? Thank you. xox

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I keep the faith too, Amy. I guess I just don’t believe that others do. I believe that we each make a difference, and each time we write something like your post, or mine, or any of the others out there, we possibly impact even 1 other person… and we make a difference. Keep your wonderful attitude; we need so much more of that! xo

        Liked by 1 person

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