I cannot imagine the pain one mom is going through right now. Her 14-year-old son, David Phan, who is uniformly described as nice and respectful to everyone, shot himself in front of classmates and other parents, apparently due to bullying. Reports say he left his Salt Lake City, Utah, suburb high school yesterday with his mother after a trip to the principal's office. But a couple of hours later, he returned alone to a pedestrian bridge, where several students were leaving school with their parents. There, in front of everyone, he pulled out a gun, placed it to his head, and shot.
Apparently after leaving school with his mom, he was searched for weapons. Why? Had he expressed suicidal thoughts? And why was he in the principal's office? It could have had something to do with bullying. One classmate says Phan was "one of the sweetest guys I've ever known." He described how Phan once bought him a drink and never asked to be paid back. But despite this, he was routinely bullied "for no reason." "I don't think people realize how much words can hurt," said another student.
After leaving school with his mother, Phan then apparently returned home, where there was a gun in a locked box. Police believe this is the weapon he used to kill himself.
This story brings up so many awful questions and it's ones we've heard before. How was this teen able to access a gun? If it was really in a locked box, did he know how to unlock it? If so, why? I personally am against any kind of weapon in a house where there are children and it's because of reasons like this. Not to mention all of the accidental shootings.
And now we get to the bullying portion of this tragedy. Bullying has certainly become more of a known issue since the days when I was in school, and no one even talked about it and everyone suffered in silence. But it seems that parents are still not teaching their kids how WRONG this is. Not to blame it on parents, because obviously kids don't listen to everything they're told. But I also think that parents have an obligation to ask their kids if they are being bullied. Don't wait for them to come to you, because they may not. Ask them.
Solutions can include going to the school, and also talking to the parents of the teens doing the bullying. But we all know that might not work out. Some parents are in denial about their "little darlings." So it's time to talk with your kids about bullying -- about what it means and what it doesn't. Verbal bullying is something we all endure on occasion -- some much more than others. It's horrible and depressing, but it doesn't mean your life is over. High school ends. Life goes on.
There's no reason that bullying needs to decimate a child's self-esteem to the point of suicide. Enroll them in a self-defense and anti-bullying course. Children should be told that bullying is really a reflection of the bulliers' lack of self-esteem. That may or may not make them feel any better, but it's better than saying nothing.
My heart goes out to this mom who sounds like she had a good kid.
Do you talk about bullying with your kids?
Image via Gaulsstin/Flickr