When Teens Speak Up To Help Others

Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. I’m not sure how many schools were able to plan activities for students. The hectic nature of the start of a school year probably didn’t allow much beyond instructing teachers and students of the new, tougher bullying law in Connecticut. Bullying has led to suicide for some students, so the connection may have been made there.

Also last week, my students decided to read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, a bestselling young adult novel about a high school junior who commits suicide and then leaves audiotapes explaining why.

According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between 10 and 24, resulting in about 4,400 youth deaths per year. Also: 15% of  U.S. high school students “reported seriously considering suicide, 11% reported creating a plan, and 7% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, about 149,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.”

But I don’t want to spend the rest of this post writing about bullies in and out of a child’s home and what happens when things go wrong. I want to write about when things go well and a student does not become a statistic.

I want to tell you about the freshman who came to my classroom last year, first thing in the morning, to tell me he was concerned about a friend. She wrote him some disturbing texts the night before. She wasn’t in school that morning. We walked to guidance immediately and, there, they worked to determine if she was safe.

I want to tell you about the junior who was sitting in ISS. A girl borrowed a pencil from her, then broke it, ripped off the metal part, and used it to cut herself. The junior called me and asked if I could retrieve her from ISS so that she could work with me on her English paper. When I took her out of ISS, she broke down, telling me the English paper was a lie, but she had to get out of ISS to tell someone. Counselors and social workers moved into action to help both girls.

I am one of 100 teachers in my building. I’m sure we all have similar stories.

Bullies are out of control, and the number of students who hurt themselves as a result of bullying is astounding. But, this post is about the students who do the right thing. They step up and help others in need. They tell people to back off. They tell an adult when they think something serious is about to happen. They are responsible and brave when it’s not easy to be either.

I look forward to reading THIRTEEN REASONS WHY with my students. A major theme is a line stated by Hannah Baker, the girl who commits suicide. She says, “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”

I hope this sinks in as my students read the novel. The good news is some of them already know the impact they have on the lives of others. Some of them have already proven they will not stand by and do nothing. Instead of “pushing it,” they will “push back.” Anti-bullies. They’re out there. Perhaps we need more of them, but let’s not overlook the ones that already exist. To them, I say thank you. I’m sure you have had a positive impact on the lives of other people.

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