Thursday, 19 September 2013

A response to the death of Chloe Fergusson

I've just been reading an article from The Mercury about the tragic death of a young Tasmanian girl, Chloe Fergusson, and found the following quote particularly upsetting, "She was getting picked on for absolutely horrible things, like not having a mother ... it was awful," Ms Whitehill said. Ms Whitehill is Chloe's older sister. 

It's made me ask myself...what has happened to compassion in our society? How could any child, any young person, any person, think that is something to tease, mock or ridicule another person about? How could anyone get any satisfaction out of making someone already bereft of an absolute key person in their young lives feel further isolated and alone? How is it that our children have no compassion for another's suffering? What has gone wrong here?

I know that bullying is not new. I know it's not going to go away if there is legislation to make people more accountable for their actions. It might make some silly people think twice before picking on someone just for entertainment, but there will still be some that won't care about the consequences to themselves. Some people see themselves as untouchable or immune to the laws of the land. Laws can do only so much. 

The rest we will have to do ourselves somehow. 

But how? How can we change the psyche of people, young and old, who think it is acceptable to harass and bully others? What is missing in their lives, in their personal education, that allows them to think it's OK?  Do they really think it's OK?  I have lots of questions. What sort of perverse satisfaction do the bullies get from their actions...or from the reactions of those they bully?

Somehow in the past generation or two, some basic tenets of living in a society seem to have gone to ground. I'm talking about those human virtues which most of us exercise simply as a result of being human; respect for others, respect for ourselves, compassion towards ourselves and others, kindness towards ourselves and others, treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Empathy; the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another and imagine what they might be feeling. These things guide our behaviour towards ourselves and others. What has happened to them? Are they rarer qualities than they used to be? 

Is it that now young people can bully others too easily, without being seen? Social media and mobile phones have given bullies a ticket to sneaky, insidious and sustained attacking of the innocent. It is easy to engage in constant attacks without being caught. Threats are such that the bullied people don't 'tell'.  These tools are part of life now. They make life easier in many ways and we've all come to rely on them and to take them for granted. Those of us that are a bit older are probably more able to see how this problem has evolved. The younger ones who have known no other's for us to teach them how to use these fantastic tools for good, not for creating pain and suffering for others. It's not just about legistlating against bullying behaviour, although that is an important step, but we have to somehow give back a heart to bullies who have somehow lost their hearts. That is the only explanation I can find for this kind of heartless badgering of another to the point where they can no longer see any point in living. It is utterly heartless, thoughtless.

How can we give back to those tragic heartless creatures, a heart to feel another's pain? An imagination to experience another's distress? How can we teach them to understand that there are consequences for actions? How can we help them to understand the immense burden they will have to carry for life knowing that they caused someone else so much grief that they took their own life? 

There are anti-bullying programs in schools and workplaces; it is not just children that can choose to bully. There are anti-bullying movements on the internet and pages on social media. It is not a hidden thing any more. We are talking about it.

It needs adults and children who already know and understand to begin to identify bullying behaviour and shine a light on it. Let it not go on in secret or in ignorance. Let us expose the bullies and offer them help. People who bully have a problem It is not 'normal' behaviour. It is not helpful behaviour. It doesn't help their issues, even if it gives them some temporary feelings of power over another. We need to be offering help not just to the bullied but to the bullies. We need to find out what is behind their behaviour and find ways to help them learn to do better. To do good. To do kindness. To do compassion. We need to help them find out that it feels great to do empathy and kindness to another. First, we might need to show them some empathy and listen and feel their pain. I simply can't believe that anyone does these things just for fun. I can't. 

We have lost our way as a society. Too many kids are raising themselves while parents are both working or studying or losing themselves in social media, hiding their stresses with alcohol or drugs. Too many kids are directed to X-boxes and PC games to entertain themselves so that parents have time to themselves. We need families that have time together again. We need parents that sit around the table and talk to their kids; listen to their kids. We need parents that turn their mobile phones off and BE WITH their kids; no interruptions. We need parents that parent their kids. It's hard work. It means saying no to anti-social, violent, bullying behaviour in all it's various guises. It means taking responsibility. We need to support parents to parent their kids. We need to stop chasing dollars, ease the pressure to keep gaining more stuff and start working on gaining things that really matter. Our kids have grown up in a culture of 'rights'. Often rights are taught or talked about in isolation. They must be taught and talked about in tandem with responsibility. Kids need reasonable limits set on their behaviour. They need reasonable consequences when they push the limits. They need to take responsibility for their behaviour. 

We want bullying to stop. We want violence to stop. We know it's not good, but we allow bullying and violence into our own homes via television shows and gaming machines. We allow our kids to become desensitised to violence, to violent images and actions. 
PLEASE rethink what you allow into your home in terms of games and television. 
PLEASE rethink how and how much time you spend with your own children or grandchildren. 
PLEASE rethink how you speak to them if you just shrug them off when they need your time, patience and understanding. They need to learn how to be responsible and contributing members of society to be happy. They learn from example and from doing.
PLEASE help the kids to feel. Help them to understand that there are consequences for actions.  Use social media to teach  them and find things they can do to make a positive difference in the world. 
For Chloe Fergusson. For her family. For all the others who have taken their lives because they've been bullied. For the sake of those you might save if you teach your child to exercise kindness, compassion and empathy. For the sake of your child who might be responsible for the death of another child one day if you don't teach them now. Do it now. Do it so that you don't have to one day did my child do that? Make the effort. Today. With love.

I've included some links below that will help you find out more about helping kids who are bullied or who are bullying. There is information for parents, teachers, students and young children. Please share with anyone you think may benefit from reading this. Thank you.


  1. Unfortunately there are parents who are bullies themselves, bullying their children daily and these children very often go on to take out their frustration on others away from home.
    I agree, these angry children need help and it's a major issue, how to break the cycle of abuse.
    Also, too often, children reporting bullying are turned away by teachers/school staff. It shouldn't happen, but it does. Parents going to see the teachers to seek help are told that it will be looked into, but often isn't. These children continue to be bullied, the bullies escalating their violent behaviour because they think they can get away with it.
    How are teachers supposed to keep tabs on all the bullies with limited resources to do so?
    I agree Kerry, teaching good values starts at home but what about all those children that don't have that upbringing, who will teach them?

    1. Hi Karin and thanks for your valid remarks here. It is very hard when children are subject to bullying in their own homes as they are likely then to want to have that power over someone else. They can be powerless in their own situation and it can make them feel powerful to bully someone else. Education is the key but to find a way to reach people and change their minds and hearts is a long and slow business. We all have to do what we can. Teachers in general are doing the best they can to address the issues around bullying. I've known of people taking a child out of school and home-schooling for six months. Each situation has to be managed individually. What is right for one might not be right for another. I wish I had all the answers! Love to you <3