Another teen made national news last month for taking his own life. Fourteen year old Jamey Rodemeyer died outside his Buffalo home September 18 after being taunted by classmates for years.
One week later, Jamey’s parents appeared on The Today Show urging American parents to “make their kids talk” and calling for an end to bullying, a rally cry echoed by celebrities such as Ricky Martin and Lady Gaga. Jamey’s father, Tim Rodemeyer, called the kids who bullied his son “heartless”.
Awful as it is, Jamey’s is not a new story. Ann Curry observed that 4500 kids between the ages of 10 and 20 committed suicide in the United States last year. Though her statistics were not specific, she observed that, like Jamey, a large percentage were lesbian or gay. She raised the question of whether “intolerant” pastors and politicians who preach against the homosexual lifestyle were partly to blame for the deaths.
Given the higher rate of suicide among sexually deviant teens, it is perhaps noteworthy that people are not asking different questions or raising other possibilities. For instance, does the identification of oneself as lesbian or gay cause despair and lead to suicide? Does lack of parental involvement or school culture play a role?
For several years now, there has been much emphasis on bullying as the cause of suicide in cases such as Jamey’s. Popular opinion seems to indicate that intolerance is the root cause of the problem. Intolerance is defined as any word or deed suggesting that there is anything wrong or unequal about the homosexual lifestyle.
Supposedly, by stamping out “intolerance” through new laws, all will be well. Never mind that this is both impossible and a violation of our civil rights.
Suicide is not a normal response to taunting, teasing or even verbal abuse.
It is complicated, extreme and maddening in that the only witness is no longer available for comment. Of course, suicide was not Jamey Rodemeyer’s first response. He began telling his parents about the bullying as early as the fifth grade. By the time he entered high school, he had stopped confiding in them but it seems that, for over four years, verbal abuse was a part of his daily life. I wonder how many adults could endure that kind of environment at work day after day, year after year? Of course, adults have the power to make significant change when they need to. Kids do not. Suicide may seem like a reasonable escape hatch for someone who is desperate to save himself from a bad situation but has limited power to act on his life in any meaningful way.
Suicide may also appeal to youth today because of the amount of attention the dead teens receive in the media. They are portrayed as victim heroes, even saints, who are now in a better place. The weekend after Jamey’s death, Lady Gaga dedicated her concert to him, enshrining his photo and saying, “Jamey, I know you’re up there looking at us”. Absent is any talk of the soul or the eternal consequences of killing oneself. Absent is any talk of those left behind to grieve or the self-centeredness inherent in the act. Absent is any concern for the faceless “bullies”, the kids who will live forever with the guilt of contributing to a classmate’s death.
What is going on in our homes and our schools that we adults continue to chant the mantra of “the bullies are to blame” instead of taking responsibility? Who failed at the job of protecting Jamey at school and at home? Is it really impossible to prevent bullying through serious discipline at school? Why are we singling out the bullying of homosexual kids as particularly horrible? Isn’t it the tormenting itself that is the problem? What can we do locally to put an end to it?
These are questions primarily for school administrators and those who have the power to influence the environment in schools. If you are a parent, like me, your primary influence is over your own children. There are many indications aside from this latest tragedy that there are serious problems in America’s schools. Alternatives to a full day of public school are springing up all over the place, everything from online programs to tutoring out of homes to one day a week schools. If a school is failing your child for whatever reason, there are a myriad of options. I think we need to stop asking kids to return day after day to impossible situations. It is not reasonable.
We adults also need to start exercising our authority. Like it or not, we are the leaders, the responsible ones. I have noticed that many adults promote a kind of “carpe diem” attitude in their kids, sending the message that their impending adulthood is a tedious thing and encouraging teens to enjoy the fleeting days of their youth with few limits. Wrapped up in this is our culture’s intense fear of aging and death. Kids need adults to be leaders who set limits, give them rules to follow and model a healthy approach to the journey of life. We must be those adults.
Finally, it is time to say NO! to those who peddle death to our youth. One particular star seems to have played an enormous role in Jamey Rodemeyer’s life and death. In fact, during the interview for The Today Show, Jamey’s mother, Tracy, wore a thick wristband promoting Lady Gaga in memory of her son. Because of her heavy emphasis on Jamey’s love for the star, I googled some of Lady Gaga’s lyrics:
As long as I’m your hooker (get down), Hooker (ya, you’re my hooker)–HOOKER
I asked my girlfriend if she’d seen you round before. She mumbled something while we got down on the floor baby we might’ve f—ed not really sure. That boy is a monster.—MONSTER
Ohohoh I’m in love with Judas….when he comes to me I am ready, I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs, Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain. Even afta 3 times he betrays me.-–JUDAS
Filth, obscenities, overt disrespect for Christianity: all of these are available to kids everywhere from the mall to the school dance to their own ipods. And these are just three of her many songs. What parent would want her child to follow this Pied Piper?
The day before he died, Jamey sent Lady Gaga a text saying, “Bye Mother Monster. Thank you for all you’ve done.” More fitting words I cannot imagine.
Alice Doyle is an instructor of Spanish who blogs at LesFemmes-TheTruth.
Source: Spero News