A Child's Lifelong Emotional Wounds:
The "Hidden" Disability from Bullying
by Dolly Lee
I am writing about a subject that has received national attention in the past. A subject that most people in western Wisconsin feel is not a problem in our quiet, rural area. I am writing to tell you it is here and it is a big problem. It is in our cities, small towns and peaceful countries. It is in our parks, playgrounds, schools, and homes. Our children know it is here. It has been here for years. It is time adults realize it is here also.
Bullying. One word the nation has become familiar with, but a word still taken too lightly in many areas. According to the dictionary “bully” means; A person who habitually intimidates weaker people. This definition of bullying is way too brief in my opinion. To the victims and their families bullying means; discrimination, verbal and physical harassment, rumors, false accusations, threats and gangs. These terms are all too familiar in our home. Our son is a victim of bullying.
Our son was diagnosed with a non-curable congenital heart condition at the age of 5. He has undergone palliative open-heart surgery, heart catharizations, and numerous other procedures. He also has a miniature heart defibrillator implanted in his chest to shock his heart should it stop. Due to his heart condition he has been banned form all exertive and physical contact sports. This includes football, hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, wrestling, karate, weightlifting, track, etc. He takes daily medication to hopefully slow down the progression of his ultimate heart failure. Our son has a hidden disability.
Let me give a few examples of our personal definition of bullying.
Discrimination. We thought letting our son’s peers know about his heart condition would be beneficial. We thought it would help them understand why he can’t physically do what “normal” healthy children do. Instead it brought discrimination against our son. Even in the early years of elementary school discrimination is present among children. We feel our son has been discriminated against by way of verbal and physical harassment from peers.
Our son has been teased for years in relation to his disability. He is teased about not being able to run as fast or as far as his peers. He is teased about not being able to participate fully in phy-ed. He is teased about not being able to participate in any of the popular sports. He is even teased about having a “disease”. He is often told by his peers not to touch them or their belongings because they don’t want “disease germs”. Teasing or harassment? In my opinion they are the same.
The verbal harassment eventually turned into physical harassment. Our son has been hit, tripped, pushed down, and kicked. Normal childhood play? Not when it turns into being held down while knee slammed in the chest, having basketballs slammed into your head, being body slammed to the ground, punched in the face and punched in the chest. This has not happened “on occasion” It has happened on a regular basis for years. Recently we have had to seek medical attention for our son after a peer punched him in the ribs. Thankfully this time he was only diagnosed with bruised ribs and not fractures. Also, thankfully this time there was no damage to his heart or defibrillator.
Would a child paralyzed in a wheelchair be harassed about not being able to run and play like the others? Would they be harassed because they are paralyzed? Would they be pushed over, kicked and punched? Why is it acceptable to harass a child with a “hidden” disability?
On to two more of our personal definitions of bullying. Rumors and false accusations. Whispering and stretching the story are indeed a normal part of childhood. Kids being kids. Most kids have done it including my own. However, the innocence of kids being kids has been lost in some of today’s generation of children. Instead of innocent whispering and tall tales, some children have resorted to spreading vicious, completely fabricated rumors and false accusations.
I will give you one example that recently happened to my son, but I assure you this is only one of many my son has been the victim of. It is also an example of how serious today’s bullying has become. For whatever reason a child decided to fabricate a serious accusation against my son. Without getting into details I will just say it was a sexual accusation that could have had some life long, serious consequences with the court system for my son. One child started it, and several others helped spread it. It was carried into homes and told to parents. A parent went to the school and complained about it. An investigation occurred and it was found to be a completely fabricated story started to hurt my son. The child who fabricated it admitted he made the whole story up. I have very mixed emotions about this whole incident. The child guilty of starting this false accusation did something seriously wrong. Yet this child also did something seriously right by admitting they fabricated the whole story. What I hope was explained to this child and the others involved is the serious consequences this could have caused an innocent child! The guilty child got equivalent to a slap on the hand. However, if they had not told the truth my son would have been in court and suffering some serious consequences for something he was completely innocent of. Is this an example of kids being kids by simply whispering about peers and stretching the story? Or is it more appropriate to call it false accusations?
And finally my mention of threats and gangs. We are all aware of the following story: A child who is told they will lose their lunch money if they didn’t do what the bully wanted. Or the little girls who always teased other girls about their clothes. Again, a normal part of growing up. Yesterday’s typical school yard bullies. Now picture today’s scene: Groups of 10, 15, and even more, bullies. Groups who inform a child they just physically injured that if they tell anyone they will get beat worse tomorrow. Or a group so large and so tight they will believe anything another member says and stand by each other no matter what. Groups that support each other even when they don’t know the facts for sure, and worse yet, even when they know for sure the truth is not being told. Groups that intimidate in numbers. Is this typical school yard bullies? Or are we now seeing gangs form in elementary schools? You decide.
Something I have noticed through the years is how groups like this pull in members. Even “decent” children are being drawn into these groups. Why? I am not a professional in this area and have no concrete answers. But I am a parent who has witnessed this through the years and I have an opinion about it. Would a child rather support one or two children who are being bullied and risk being bullied themselves? Or would it be safer to join a group of 10, 15, or more? Some of these groups have become so large children are afraid to stand up to them or disagree with them. It is safer to join them then to stand up to them. The problem is not just boys either. Girls are now a major part of bullying.
My son’s physical injuries from bullying heal. However his emotional injuries suffered the past 5 years are deep. He doesn’t have emotional scars. He has lifelong emotional wounds. He now has another “hidden” disability. He has been diagnosed with an emotional disorder. The cause for emotional disorders varies, but it doesn’t take a professional to figure out what caused my son’s.
Parents or guardians need to talk to their children about disabilities and discrimination. They need to explain it is OK for a child to be different. As in my son’s case, children need to know his heart condition is not “catchy”. He can not give them a bad heart through his germs. My son’s condition was not caused by something he did wrong, or something his parents did wrong. It is congenital. Just like some kids are born with blue eyes, my son was born with a sick heart. Children need to know what it is like to be a child with a disability. My son would give anything in this world to be “normal”. To be able to play football and hockey. He would give anything not to have to suffer through endless procedures and surgeries. He dreams of not having a body full of scars. He worries about each day being his last. Children need to understand disabilities, but they need guidance in understanding it. That is our job as parents and guardians.
Parents and guardians also have to talk to their child about standing up for other children who are being bullied. Don’t let the bullies take over our schools!
My child is not perfect. We have had those dreaded school meetings. He has had to write letters of apology. He has sat in the principal’s office. The difference is, we accept when he has done something wrong, We discipline and apply consequences for incorrect actions. We seek professional help when necessary. We do this because we love our child and want to do everything in our power to teach him the difference between right and wrong! I realize some children will take the wrong path despite everything we do to help them. But most children will benefit from our hard work.
I beg parents/guardians to come forward and take charge. Don’t let our State make worldwide news like Colorado did! If your child is a victim speak up. We need to make our communities aware of this problem. If your child is a bully seek help for them. I am sure deep inside they don’t feel good about it and are silently asking for help. All children need guidance as they struggle to grow up. Today more then ever they need extra guidance! Don’t sweep this problem under the rug. Don’t pretend it is not in your community. It is here. It is real. And it is serious! Whether your child is a victim or a bully, we need to come together as adults and take charge. This problem won’t disappear unless we all work together!
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