9-year-old who came out as gay commits suicide due to bullying
He was told by his classmates that he's better off dead.
In Denver, Colorado last week, a nine-year-old boy with a sunny personality, came out as gay to his classmates. In return, Jamel Myles was made to feel undeserving of life. He had just started fourth grade. Four days after he told his friends, he committed suicide and was discovered by his mother Leia Pierce, in their family home.
Jamel Myles died because he had the courage to share his true self to the world.
How did things go so wrong?
We’ve hardly come across bullying suicidal deaths stories as heart-wrenching as this.
After reading about this tragedy, any parent out there would have had the urge to dash home and hug their kids. Our children deserve to be safe at all times. And that includes feeling safe to just be who they are.
Unfortunately, Jamel Myles was not granted such a chance, at school.
According to his mother, Jamel was terrified when he first came out to his family in the summer. But as they showed support and showered him with love, her son decided he was proud of who he was.
They did exactly what all parents should do when a child comes out as different: love unconditionally.
Jamel announced to his mother that he was going to come out as gay, at school too. And he did. But instead of receiving acceptance and kindness, he was told to “Go kill himself.”
Four days later, Leia Pierce’s son took his own life out of heartbreak. His mother shares, “I’m sad he did not come to me, I’m upset he thought this was the only option.”
Bullying suicidal deaths are a reality that does not compromise on age. Jamel Myles was only nine, and paid a terrible price for wanting a basic human right: the freedom to love and be loved for who he was.
It’s even more horrifying to consider that our own children may be culpable or complicit in bullying suicidal deaths. How do we stay alert?
It is part of every parent’s nightmare: being called up by your child’s school and told that your kid is displaying signs of bullying and other children are suffering as a result.
Understand that teasing is a normal phase of children growing up and interacting with each other. You’ll find that children tease each other as a manner of indirect and non-threatening manner of communication, and resolving conflicts.
Bullying however, is the consistent and repetitive display of action meaning to hurt or harm another. It is a display of power over someone else in which a person strives by any means (emotional or physical harm) to gain it. Bullying involves a process of intimidation, and placing someone else in a vulnerable state.
To detect if your child is being a bully, be alert for any of the following signs:
- Uncontrolled anger
- Physical violence
- Intent to harm
- Intent to control
- Absence of empathy
- Being overly competitive
- Excluding other children
- Getting into frequent trouble at school
Acceptance can be hard for parents to realise that one of your own would be capable of bullying. In some cases, parents even flat-out reject the idea. The truth is, many children out there fall into this behaviour.
The crucial thing to do as a parent, is to act on it. Immediately. Here are a few things parents can action on when you suspect your child is bullying.
- Nip it in the bud. Confront your child immediately and make sure he understands bullying is totally unacceptable behaviour, as well as why.
- Listen actively and calmly to the bullied victims, and then get your child’s side of the story.
- Encourage your child to assess his doings, atone and apologise for it.
- Teach empathy.
- Work directly with your kid’s school and teachers to find out what can be done to address the bullying.
- Ensure your discipline measures match the level undertaken by your child’s school for bullying.
- Seek child counselling if your child exhibits no signs of improvement and is excessively abusive.
It is true that our children will always be a constant source of worry, no matter their age.
As much as we want to, we will never be able to have constant eyes on our children to keep an eye on their well-being.
Which is why it’s so important to pay attention to any signs of bullying that might be affecting your child.
Some signs to watch out for:
- Bodily injury such as scratches, cuts and bruises
- Torn clothing or damaged belongings
- Low self esteem, withdrawn and unusual behaviour
- Consistent loss of money or items
- Drastic changes in eating habits
- Self-destructive behaviour
- Poor sleep and nightmares
- Frequently sick or faking illness
Most of all, trust your parental guts – only you know your child best and would sense when things are off.
If you suspect or find out your child is being bullied, ensure to liaise with the school immediately. Avoid contacting the bully’s parents first hand, as this may back-fire onto your child.
Work with the school and educators to come out with a concrete action plan. Keep a record of incidents and engage with advocacy groups for support.
In any case, don’t hesitate to seek mental health counsel if you feel your child to be in a vulnerable state.
Any one of our children could have been Jamel Myles.
So to all parents out there, keep your eyes and ears wide open. Have an open channel of communication with your kids. Teach them there is no shame in admitting they are being bullied and equip them with tools to healthily cope with unsafe situations.
Sources: CNN, WebMD, Psychology Today