The open letter that follows was posted on Facebook last week by a Vermont mom named Sara Biggs Chaney, and was shared by many parents who saw it. Like them, we thought Sara's letter, which is about why it's so important to teach our kids to be kind to one another, is worth passing on.
Dear Moms and Dads,
It’s been a difficult day.
When I picked up my daughter from camp this afternoon, she was pretty upset. Some bully in her camp group had pulled her aside on the hiking trail to whisper:
“Hey. No one likes you here.”
My daughter said she ran away and had a good cry. She doesn’t want to go back to camp tomorrow. She wonders if people don’t like her because her tummy is too big, or because her hair is too red. She wonders if it is because she forgot to smile that one time in the lunchroom.
Now, I hate it like crazy that my daughter is being bullied and teased, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. She’s 9 years old, and she likes to go her own way. She’s really creative. She sings, dances, teaches herself to play the piano. She’s an amazing artist. She has her own sense of style (like her mom, who liked to wear a necktie skirt to school in 7th grade). She’s not afraid to tell a joke she just made up or sing a passionate rendition of Gaga’s “Born This Way” in a room full of strangers. She thinks and talks along her own pathways. She likes to share the things she loves—fashion tips, Yo Momma jokes, Barbie info, Las Vegas postcards. She loves and appreciates and creates with all kinds of things. She’s awesome. One of a kind.
And so I say I’m not surprised because I remember my own years in middle school, and I know that kids get teased for standing out. And girls get it extra bad, especially when they’re irrepressible.
And I know that some of you may think that ‘it’s natural,’ that ‘it’ll pass,’ or even that ‘its okay.’ And I know that you may feel that all children are capable of teasing, and that you love your own children, and that you have your own problems. I know it might not come as an instinct to stop your child when he or she walks in the door from school and ask, “So…stomp on anybody’s heart today? I sure hope not.”
AND I know, on the other hand, how many of you DO try to teach your children to show compassion and empathy. You are out there doing your best to send kindhearted little human beings out into the world.
I know all that, but still I want to say, that too many of our children ARE stomping on each others' hearts, and that maybe you could help make it better.
And I want to ask you to make it a priority…not just to teach your kids tolerance or pity, but to teach them real appreciation for other people, and personalities, and ways of being in the world. I want you to show them that you think its more than just “okay” but AWESOME that people come along who teach us to think differently about what’s normal, or what’s reasonable, or what’s cool. I want you to make it a VALUE in their minds, not a concession or a “sad reality.”
And I want you to think that this is your JOB to do this, as much as it is my job to make my daughter laugh when she comes home crying, to make extra stuffing (her favorite) for dinner, and to stand furious and eloquent at the camp counselor’s door.
My daughter, the singer and comedian and artist, has autism. To be clear: Her life isn’t a tragedy, and she doesn’t need your pity or your bumper sticker. She is a joyous, brilliant girl who wants to be, as she tells me, “EITHER a computer engineer or a rock star.” She loves science and drama (math, not so much). But beyond our family, she has no close friends. She’s not invited on play dates, though she’d love to be. Even more, she would love to be invited to other kids’ birthday parties.
Like many of your kids, she just wants to be herself AND have a place to belong. She needs you to seed better and more informed attitudes in your children. She needs you to encourage your children to give her a chance to be part of their communities.
Sara Biggs Chaney
POSTSCRIPT: When I tell you my daughter has autism, maybe you'll think, "Ah, that explains it..." But I want to advise you to be very careful in making that assumption. Many people think autism = extreme social deficiency. But in fact, the story is FAR more complicated and varied than that stereotype. In this case, my daughter has been subject to explicit "friendship instruction" for years (the kind of instruction we ALL could benefit from, I think). There is no doubt that she knows something about how to make friends! But teachers and speech therapists (for the most part, inadvertently) teach her that it is HER job entirely to make social connections.
Where's the intensive, relentless friendship instruction for the vicious little bullies and tiny conformists??? She tries valiantly to be a good friend and gets NOTHING back. And then stereotypes kick in that allow us to tell ourselves that she has no friends because she has autism?!!! That is simply not the case. She reaches out and no one returns the gesture, and that is SURELY not a social fact that she should have to carry alone.
I hope you understand.
Sara Biggs Chaney is Assistant Director for Program Development in Dartmouth College's Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. She also teaches first-year writing classes at Dartmouth. She lives in Wilder, VT with her husband and daughter.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.