The 10-year-old who committed suicide recently in a rural Illinois community came home from school the day before in tears. It wasn’t the first time.
Ashlynn Conner, a fifth-grader, had complained of bullying for two years. After the most recent episode, Ashlynn asked to be home-schooled and her mother promised to take her for a chat with the principal the following Monday. The next night, her older sister found her hanging by a scarf in her bedroom closet.
How do we STOP the madness?
- Become aware of your personal biases. We all have them. Children start picking them up from family members, TV and others in their environment about the time they start walking. Studies have shown that as early as age 3, some toddlers are using words associated with racial prejudice! As evidenced by Ashlynn Conner’s devastating experience, by elementary school children may have acquired a grown-up set of biases that are manifest in taunts, jeers and other acts of bullying. See what biases you may have by taking the Hidden Bias Tests developed by psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington. Visit implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/
- Hone your empathy skills. People who can empathize well are good at putting themselves in another person’s shoes. They may not agree with that person’s feelings, but they can understand them – sometimes they can actually feel what another person feels. Empathy helps us relate to others and erodes biases by pushing us beyond baseless preconceived notions. Some of us have to work harder at being empathetic than others. To work on your skills, ask yourself how your children, co-workers or spouse would describe you. Be honest! Would your children say you yell a lot? Would your spouse say you spend more time complaining about what he or she doesn’t do than acknowledging what he does? Empathy also helps us meet that gold standard of rules: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- If you have a negative attitude, change it. If you tend to make negative comments or respond negatively when talking about or to certain groups of people, practice turning them into positives, even if it means following your negative with a positive. (Your friends should be only mildly confused at first.) Believe it or not, heart and mind often follow our spoken word and it’s a good way to start changing your attitude.
Would the world really be at peace or even much happier if we treated people with just a bit more kindness?
Some may not relate the two situations as being the same. The psychology of someone feeling that they have no hope and no way out is the same. The thoughts of someone who has gone into a state of depression is the same no matter where they are, what color they are, how old they are or what situation they face. Suicide does not discriminate.