Bringing Down Bullies: It Takes All of Us
(page 1 of 3)
“If you could have any last words or conversation with your child, what would it be,” I asked Kirk Smalley.
As he let out a heavy sigh, a tear came rolling down his face and he answered, “There are no words.”
Kirk says that there isn’t a day that has gone by that he doesn’t think about his son, Ty Smalley, who took his own life on May 13, 2010. Since Ty’s death, Kirk and his wife Laura have marked the thirteenth of each month with increased sadness and grief.
Ty, a fifth grader from Perkins, OK, had been tormented for years by other children because of his size.
“Ty was a sixth grader who had a body of a fourth grader,” Smalley said.
A group of kids had been bullying Ty for a number of years and, even though Laura Smalley tried countless times to get the school administration to do something about the problem, nothing was ever done.
Finally, Ty decided that he would stand up for himself, and he lashed out at one of the bullies, scratching the boy’s arm. Ty’s punishment for fighting was to be suspended.
“Of course the one who retaliates and stands up for himself is the one who gets caught,” Kirk said.
The day that Ty took his life, he and his mom were talking about going fishing and doing other things that they enjoyed together. While the Smalleys knew that Ty was upset about being suspended, they had no indication that Ty was considering such drastic measures.
Ty decided that he had had enough after his expulsion from school, and committed suicide with a gun in his own home. Ty was only 11 years old. That day was the start of Kirk and Laura’s worst nightmare.
Ty’s actions are not unusual. According to a study done by researchers at Yale University, kids who are bullied are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
Why Kids Bully
Ty was bullied because of his small size, but children are bullied for a variety of other reasons, such as their age, physical or cognitive disabilities, sexual orientation, religion or race. Sometimes, there’s no apparent reason for a child being bullied.
Reasons that children bully are many. Steve Hahn, primary prevention manager for The Parent Child Center of Tulsa, says that stress at home such as poverty and hunger can cause children to act out and bully other children.
“A lot of times kids bully other kids to feel powerful as well,” said Jacqueline Gallegos, coordinator and puppeteer for Kids on the Block, a bullying prevention program at The Parent Child Center.
Gallegos works with elementary age children to help them understand what bullying is, and to give them the skills they need to prevent them from becoming victims to aggressors.
“Don’t hand over your personal power,” she tells children, “because bullies look for easy targets.”
Ty’s tormentors saw an easy target in him because of his small size. “Children would cram him into lockers and trash cans, and he hated it,” Kirk said.
Hahn said that physical bullying such as Ty endured is often the result of aggressors who feel that they can easily hurt a smaller or less assertive person.
“If the [bullying] is in a physical situation,” Hahn said, “odds are very high that the reason a child is getting picked on is because he would get beaten up in a fight or physical altercation. There is no doubt in the mind of a bully that he can beat up the other child.”
While size can be the reason some children are bullied, others may be victimized because of their sexual orientation. Kelby Johnson, a 16-year-old from Tuttle, OK was one of the subjects in the recently released documentary “Bully.” The teen had a rough time throughout school because of her sexual orientation.
“I’ve been told that people don’t want to touch me,” she said.
As a result of the humiliation at school, Kelby became a cutter and tried to commit suicide three times.