When your child comes home upset about some jerk on the schoolbus, it's a parent's job to tell our kids we love them and try to convince them the big mean bullies just don't appreciate their special brand of awesome. But after watching the grieving parents of bullied to death teen Tyler Long -- whose high school struggles are among those told in the already controversial documentary Bully -- on Ellen DeGeneres' show this week, I'm starting to feel like we've been doing it wrong all along.
The Longs did that, and more, for their son, whose Asperger's made it hard to understand why the cruel kids who told him he should die wouldn't simply stop the unending torture. He committed suicide despite having loving, supportive parents at home who did everything they could to fight for their boy. And Tina Long told Ellen a shocking truth more parents need to hear.
We aren't enough. As Tina Long said:
What peers think of our kids, I think we downplay that ... A parent can only do so much ... we can love them tremendously, but when they walk into that building, something else happens.
Something in Tina's words hit me in a way that nothing has in all the talk of bullying in the past few years. We all yearn for acceptance. And yet, we parents don't like to admit that ours is not enough.
Instead, we talk about raising our kids to think for themselves and to stand up for what they believe in. We talk a lot about self-confidence, and self-love, and self-preservation. And these are all important, don't get me wrong. I want my daughter to know that she really is all that and a bag of chips. She's smart, she's funny, she's quirky ... but really, I don't need to be a braggy mom. Point being: she rocks.
She doesn't need someone else's approval in order to be incredible. But it's nice, isn't it? It's life-affirming to hear that someone else thinks we're pretty cool. It's why we live in a society where people have friends, and why people couple up. It's human nature to crave affection and positive attention. And as much as we, the parents, want to think our love is enough, face it ... we went off from our own nests, made new friends, coupled up, became parents. Because our own parents weren't enough.
We aren't enough for our kids. They need what we need too. But if you were to stand up in a room full of parents and admit you wouldn't mind having a kid who was popular, the clucking tongues will start going a mile a minute. Didn't you know your kids are supposed to ignore what other people think of them and just be their own awesome selves?
Well, yes. And no. Bullies should not have the power to tell our kids who they can and cannot be. Whether your kid has autism or your kid is gay or your kid is a geek or whatever has suddenly made them a target, it's not "their fault" that someone else is acting like a complete jerk. But "it gets better" does not solve the problems of "right now." It does not suddenly make being picked on FEEL good. There is no magic switch that can be flicked to suddenly lower the volume of everyone telling you that you suck to the quiet tittering of a mouse.
Yes, our kids are incredible. But Tina Long is right. We can't just sit here telling them that out of one side of our mouths and, out of the other, tell them that their basic human need for love and acceptance is a weakness that they need to rise above.
Check out Tina and David Long's chat with Ellen (please, get the tissues out first):
How have you talked to your kids about the bullies? Do you find yourself falling into the "well, they just don't know how cool you are" trap?
Image via The Ellen Show/YouTube