Today, Chloe’s Humanities class is discussing the “RIP Amanda Todd” Facebook page as well as her YouTube video. First and foremost, let me offer my condolences to her family and friends. The path she chose (suicide) is beyond tragic. Catastrophic, more like. She looked like a beautiful girl, inside and out, and the world can use more of those.
The debate at the high school today isn’t so much about the tragedy of her death – where’s the debate there? Tragedy. End of story. Rather, it is about bullying and where exactly the responsibility lies. Is it with the bullies? Is it with our teachers? The parents? Society at large? Or perhaps even a portion with the victim herself?
The most obvious answer is the bullies. But when we are talking about pre-teens and teens, they are so readily and easily molded by their peers, their parents, misconceptions about their parents’ views, society – the list is endless. It is a very complicated thing to blame a child. Even a teen. They are still being formed by their environment. They are, to a very large extent, merely a product of all that they have known. It isn’t until a child leaves home and meets people of differing viewpoints, religions, political stances, that they get the chance to put a little critical thought to work. I am by no means excusing the bullies. By your teen years, you should most certainly know right from wrong.
But so should the adults involved. In Amanda’s case, she clearly still had access to some form of social media and so she should. But nowhere in her tragic tale is there any reference made to a parent figure who could at the very least have advised deleting any and all contact with former bullies so as not to bring her sad past forward into her present and future. A little guidance goes a long way.
Same goes for parental advice with regard to the concept of “being bullied”. Let’s face it, people say – and do – inappropriate things. All the time. People like different people. The schools and some parents want everyone to play nicely all the time with everyone. That’s not the real world. Nor, in my opinion, does it need to be. We don’t have to like each other. We just need to respect each other and be courteous of each other’s feelings. That’s really not so hard. So, when my daughter or son comes home and they’ve had a “bad” day, we talk it out and the lesson I try to impart is that while the world is indeed a beautiful place filled with amazing, kind human beings, not everyone is kind every second of every day. If we judge people by their worst moments, the world can get ugly real fast. You just need to roll with the punches. Be kind back, but be strong too. Stand up. For yourself and for others. The entire concept of “bullying” falls flat if no one caves. If no one chooses to be a victim.
If something happens – and it will – make a choice to go forward. Ask for help. From a parent, a friend, a teacher, a hotline, anywhere. Help is out there for the asking.
In my daughter’s case, she was bullied by mother-daughter dance studio owners. She would never call it “bullying” because she refuses to play the role that implies. But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? After years of sub-par training, competitions the girls had no business being at, a cult-like “we are different” mentality, the bullying came to an ugly head.
Her final year was plagued with miscommunication due to growing pains at the studio. We all (wrongly) assumed that when the daughter left for university, she would take her dark cloud of bipolar-ness with her. Sadly, that was the year ear-marked for her to take over dance classes and play a much larger role at the studio. As the daughter could do no wrong, if there was any shadow of doubt about miscommunication, the burden of proof fell on Chloe.
In the Spring, a month prior to dance competitions, Chloe came to the car and said what a strange experience she’d just had. While in Modern class, the studio owner and daughter had been in attendance sitting on the stairs scowling at her. Chloe was then texted by the owner who was less than twenty feet away at the time to berate her for changing the informal dance show line-up. (Something done each and every year previous to this when dancers needed to make changes.) Not a word in person, nothing. Is that weird or what? That’s the strength of the modern day bully, virtual distance. Whether it be via Facebook, texting, e-mail, you name it. Cowards hide behind theses devices.
Never one to back down, I advised Chloe to there and then text her back and inform her that obviously no disrespect was intended, but that she thought she had done the right thing given previous years. The problem, however, wasn’t as simple as that. The dance Chloe replaced was choreographed (badly, I might add) by the daughter. It quickly became obvious that the daughter had her feelings hurt and that mama bear had decided to pounce. On my, at the time, 14 year old daughter. Well done. Phew. She really had it coming. (Please note the sarcasm.) Chloe kept up the texting until is was clear that there was no other option than to leave, so she left. She came home, drafted a professional, polite exit letter. She contacted her other dance teachers and told them that her relationship with the owner had reached an impasse. She texted her friends and apologized for the few choreography changes that would need to be made with her exit. In each and every way, she handled herself with strength, poise and grace. If only the same could be said for the studio owner.
Never in my life have I witnessed such immature behaviour in all my life. She is, without a doubt, the biggest bully I have ever met. She gathered all the girls together and told them that she “didn’t know what would become of Chloe” and cast aspersions about her character, her behaviour, her exit, everything. She tainted each and every relationship Chloe ever had at that studio, but Chloe remained strong, knowing that such a test of friendship would surely only weed out the false friends. And so it did. The saddest, invisible part really is that all the girls in that room were bullied that day. They were just too blind to see it.
Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. After I contacted the other parents (many of whom were my friends or parents of children who came because Chloe danced there), I was threatened with a lawsuit. And in their Friday night class, the dancers were all handed scissors and told that due to a request of mine, all the photos on the wall needed to be taken down and Chloe’s photo needed to be cut out of them. So, this woman hosted a “cutting ceremony” to excise Chloe and, unbeknownst to them, bully the other dancers. What more perfect way to intimidate the remaining dancers than to say “this is what will happen to you if you stand up to me”.
Chloe is a strong individual and just kept moving forward. I don’t even think she shed a tear for the false friends she left behind. I think in her heart of hearts she feels sorry for them. Where can they go? The training is such that another studio wouldn’t take them and they are bound to it irrevocably now due to the manner of Chloe’s passing.
It wasn’t all bad news, however. In direct homage to Chloe’s strength and integrity, the teachers Chloe contacted wrote back to her, noting their sadness at losing her and encouraging her to keep dancing. In addition, many of the senior dancers supported her in secret and are still friends of hers. Two even said that their moms wished they had had the nerve to stand up to the studio owner like Chloe did. So that helped.
This is part of Chloe’s history now and one she hasn’t shared with her friends. I have asked her permission to write this today and she gave it. It is our hope, our truest wish, that sharing her story can help even one other person. At any given time, someone is being “bullied”. Sometimes even by adults and people in positions of authority and trust – as in Chloe’s situation. It’s how that nastiness is received that determines how it shapes our future.
Let’s all – as parents, children, students, teachers, just as human beings – stand up. And, by “stand up” I don’t just mean to the bullies. Don’t let yourself be victimized. You will never have the ability to control another person’s actions – even a friend’s, so surely not a bully’s – but you can and should control your response. It’s like anything. Happiness is a choice. Being kind is a choice. So should being strong. Choose strength, integrity, kindness. And, by all means, help those that need a helping hand. It really is that simple.
Thank you for listening to our story. For it is OUR story. Not just Chloe’s story. A parent suffers too. And, to all the bullies out there, get over yourselves. I’m sorry you’re unhappy with your own life, but making someone else miserable isn’t the path to a brighter future. Choose to be a good person. It too is a choice.
p.s. If, by some miracle of miracles, Chloe’s bully actually reads this, to her I say: You are the singularly most unprofessional, mal-intentioned person I have ever had the misfortune to meet. You took advantage of my trust and my good nature. In my ignorance, I encouraged other families to bring you their daughters. I regret this beyond measure. It is part of my emotional & spiritual journey to make peace with what transpired and I am trying to forgive you, even though you don’t deserve it. Grow up. Meditate on the role you play in these young ladies’ lives and rise to the occasion. It’s never too late to be a good person. The choice is yours.