By Vi Waln
Bullying is a real problem. In fact, there are young people who have committed suicide because they grew weary of being terrorized by a bully. Yet, there are adults on the Rez who are in denial about how bullying contributes to suicide. There are also adults who deny that poverty is a factor in the choice some of our young people make to take their own lives.
I am an Unci. Yet, I make an effort to empathize with my Takoja. I try to truly understand how they feel. People my age grew up watching more incidents of heavy drinking, drugging, child abuse and neglect, as well as extreme violence and devastating sex crimes happening on our homelands. Life on the Rez is completely different from what it was forty years ago.
I was the victim of bullying when I was in elementary, middle and high school. Some of the torment came from my peers. I also remember instances when a mean adult at school was the bully. But I really don’t think I experienced anything as harsh as what goes on today with our students. People can be vicious when it comes to harassing others.
I also remember what it was like as a young person to feel completely self-conscious. When a person has low self-esteem, they will be especially self-conscious. Many of our children come from homes that lack not only the basic necessities, but are also devoid of an emotional, mental and spiritual support system. Some parents, for whatever reason, are incapable or unwilling to help their children thrive.
So, there are many children today who don’t get any positive attention at home. Many are belittled by their parents. It has to be really difficult to face each day with the knowledge that your parent doesn’t care much for you, while your peers at school all just want to torment you. For some students, suicide might be viewed as the only way out of what they think is an unbearable situation.
Technology has brought us cyberbullying. This is the coward’s way of terrorizing others. Our young people are very susceptible to online influences. There are actually people out there who create fake profiles with the goal of hurting others by bullying them online. This is one of the dark aspects of the internet.
As much as I depend on the internet to enhance my life, I wouldn’t be sorry at all to see it shut down for good, especially if it would disarm the online cowards who revel in bullying people they don’t know. If you are one of these people who hide behind a computer screen to engage in cyberbullying, you need to seek counseling because you obviously have major issues you’ve never dealt with.
We have to give hope to the young people we work with or encounter every day. On the Rez, we are also seeing many of our young people embrace both their masculine and feminine qualities. Many of our young people, as well as adults, openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT). I commend them for their courage to embrace their true selves, even though they are often tormented for doing so. We have to do more to support all of our young people to reach their full potential.
It will take all of us working together to give our young people the tools to cope with the stress, and often dismal realities, of everyday life on the Rez. The adults who deny the effects of bullying and poverty aren’t much help. Things could change when the adults make an effort to genuinely empathize with our teenagers and children. Still, it might take a long time to reach the point where the adults can truly understand the inner emotions and outer hardships our young people experience every single day.
When one young person takes their own life, others around them might catch that feeling of total hopelessness, a feeling which may have largely contributed to the suicide. The feeling of total hopelessness is very real. People affected by suicide, or those who have attempted suicide, may have experienced how it felt for those dark emotions to overwhelm their life. It’s not a good feeling.
Our personal experience growing up is no comparison to the lives our children are living today. Society has changed greatly since I was a child. Life on the Rez is markedly different from what it was like when I was growing up.
We are all affected by suicide. It is going to take a conscious effort from each one of us to change the world our children and teenagers experience. We won’t have a future if our children keep taking their own lives. Take some time to visit with the teens and children you encounter every day.
A kind word and caring demeanor can go a long way. A simple act of kindness or encouragement could be the one thing that stops a young person from taking the next step. Be a good relative.