Ryan Suffern, an eight year-old from North Carolina, can’t stick up for his twin sister quite yet, and by that I mean beat up the bullies that keep taunting her for her weight. But he’s trying everything else in his power to get them to stop. He recently wrote an early Christmas letter to Santa asking him to make the kids at school stop bullying her. He’s been praying about it, but God hasn’t answered. Poor Ryan is so concerned about his sister that he’s willing to give up the remote control car and helicopter he originally asked for, pretty heroic considering some brothers and sisters might even join in the bullying fun.
Bullying is a tough subject. There’s only so much we can do about it. Even raising tons of public awareness won’t completely stop bullying. It lies with the parents and the values they’re passing onto their children. We’ve all had moments as children we regret. Maybe we bullied someone, or maybe we just watched and didn’t say anything when someone else was bullied. Maybe we laughed at an overweight kid ourselves. Yet a lot of us have been on the other end too. Kids can be mean, and while a harsh comment once or twice might toughen a kid’s skin, relentless bullying can tear apart their self-esteem and have serious psychological effects.
This mom is doing it right. Even though she admits that she’s still bullied for her weight, she has obviously instilled some awesome values in her children. Ryan points out in his letter that the bullying is completely unfair (not that bullying is ever justified). The kids pick on his sister Amber for her weight and the fact that she’s multiracial, but he says “she does not do anything to them.” It’s so bad for her that she doesn’t want to go to school in the morning.
It must be heart-breaking as a parent to watch a child go through this with little power to stop it. But the fact that Amber has Ryan to stand by her side and be her advocate and her friend could make all the difference in the world. Kids need to know that they’re not alone. While the bullying might take a toll on her, she can feel assured that her brother, her forever friend, loves her and appreciates her for her sweet heart and thoughtful actions. We’ve all heard it before, but Ryan can make sure she knows that it won’t last forever and that there are people who see you for who you are and not what you look like.
To all the parents out there, let’s make it a goal to raise Ryans. Give your children a sense of justice and teach them what really matters. Let them know that real men and women stick up for each other against bullies. Let them know that bullies get the fuel from their fire from their peers that encourage them. Without that, they’re powerless. But we also need to be aware of the silent victims. Amber and Ryan’s mom didn’t know how bad the bullying had gotten until she read this letter. In the past boys have been bullied more often than girls because as a society it’s expected. Teach our sons and our daughters to tell us when it’s become too much. And then talk to them. Be that friend they can confide in.
There are adult lessons to be learned here too. Bullying takes place throughout our lives even though it tends to change as we grow up. Even as adults we can learn from Ryan that it’s not funny to make fun of the fat girl, or the ugly girl, or the prude girl. It’s not cool to look down on someone who makes less money or has a different sexual orientation. That’s behavior for children. Ryan can be a role model for all of us to be a less judgmental. And to remind us that’s it’s really important to throw great parties.