By Jane Balvanz
On a recent winter’s Sunday, a rarity happened. I found myself with enough time to leisurely view a video I’d received over a year ago. I watched Bullied: a Student, a School, and a Case that Made History. I received it from Teaching Tolerance. The back of the video’s jacket read:
This is the story of Jamie Nabozny. His ordeal began in 6th grade and only got worse in high school. Years of unrelenting bullying took its toll. But Jamie decided to take a stand against the bullying he endured and the bullying he knew other students endured. He went to court and fought for the right to be safe at school, even if you are gay. His inspiring story offers hope for the millions of gay and lesbian students who still don’t feel safe at school.
Why did his bullies choose Jamie? They first alluded to his sexual orientation when Jamie wasn’t overtly sexual. Did it start because they perceived him as different?
It’s Bad to Be Gay. What Does Gay Mean?
By third grade, many kids – especially boys – are using the word “gay” pejoratively. They have no idea what it means, but it’s a bad word, and they’re going to use it. By the time they understand it, the negative value of the word in engrained.
I wonder if Jamie felt different. Gay adults often report that before they discovered their sexual orientation, they felt different as a child or teen. It was an inexplicable difference, one not understood. And while feeling different doesn’t predict sexual orientation, it often feels lonely.
A Look at Numbers
There is normal angst in growing up. It’s a tough job for any kid and part of the human condition. Add in feeling different and misunderstood, and the angst is exacerbated. Kids who are bullied for being different are considered at-risk students. And kids, bullied for their perceived or real gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT) sexual orientation, are high risk students. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that between 30 and 40% of GLBT kids have attempted suicide, two to three times more than kids with a same sex orientation. Jamie attempted suicide. Intolerance of sexual orientation differences can be a literal killer of our youth.
Self-Acceptance is the Key
While we pride ourselves on being a nation that celebrates the diversity on which we were built, our actions betray our words. Different is OK….unless…..and the conditions start to mount. The truth is that we are a conditional people. We are OK as long as: we’re thin enough, happy enough, educated enough, part of the 1%, part of the 99%, care enough about looks, don’t care about looks, use credit, use cash, etc. Heck! What chance do our kids have at self-acceptance let alone accepting differences?
How You Can Help Kids Build Tolerance By Modeling Self-Acceptance
Judgment, fear, bullying, and prejudice are not going away. We have a chance, though, to guide our kids through them toward acceptance of differences, whatever they may be. We need to help them build a foundation of strong self-acceptance. A kid who is self-secure is better able to accept others and less likely to accept bullying. Here’s how to do it.
- Work on accepting yourself first. Stop beating yourself up, especially out loud.
- Acknowledge your mistakes and move on. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I thought you were talking when I just told everyone to be quiet.
- Admit prejudices and reasons. I have trouble accepting your generation, because you have more opportunities than I did at your age. That’s not fair of me.
- Fess up to fears. I’m scared I’ll fail and people will laugh.
- Catch yourself being judgmental. She’s a real joke. Oops! I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know what it’s like to be her.
- Quietly point out prejudice when you see it, and talk about it to kids. That man made unacceptable comments about women, and I’d like to talk to you about it.
Want to use this article in your ezine or web site?
You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish A Way Through, LLC’s bi-weekly articles. If you’re ready to guide children in grades K – 8 through painful friendships:
For School and Youth Organizations: www.GAPRAconnect.com
For Parents: www.AWayThrough.com
Jane has been an adjunct professor in counseling education at Drake University. She has volunteered her time as a Hospice grief counselor and serves others as a Reiki Master. Throughout her numerous years in private and public schools, Jane has supported many children who have found themselves in Relational Aggression situations. Jane is co-author of When Girls Hurt Girls�.