02 November 2016

The death of 11 year old Bethany - bullied because of her appearance

Content warning this post contains details of bullying and suicide. Crisis line details are at the bottom of this post.

Bethany Thompson, an 11 year old girl from Ohio killed herself because bullies became too much for her. I read the news report and couldn't hold back the tears.

They bullied her because of her appearance - a crooked smile that was caused by the cancer treatment she had when she was three, and her curly hair.

On her last day of school, she and her friends wanted to put up posters for an anti bullying campaign. The posters read "buddies, not bullies", but the school wouldn't let them. 

She told her best friend she couldn't take being bullied anymore, and killed herself on 19 October. 

It breaks my heart to read this.

Look at her. A beautiful girl, hoping to change the way students treated their peers - hoping to change the world, and she was denied that empowerment. A girl who received life saving treatment as a toddler, which should never have affected how others perceived and treated her. Now she's gone, far, far too young.
(Photo from Columbus Dispatch)

Schools need to take this behaviour more seriously - to listen when kids report bullying, and to let kids lead anti bullying campaigns.

Parents (and peers) need to show kids what bullying can lead to, and step in to say that's not ok. They need to take responsibility and action for the way their children treat others. (Alison left a great comment on my Facebook post about this.) There was a great page in Courtney Westlake's book how parents are responding well to her blog about Brenna who has Ichthyosis, but this acceptance and awareness isn't being passed down to their kids through discussions about looking different. These discussions need to happen. - they need to trickle down to children.

I also think medical support groups need to provide children and adults with tools to build resilience and assertiveness, just as much as they provide medical advice. Perhaps a buddy system - pairing up children and adults with facial differences, could offer hope and peer support. I know that would have helped me.

Most of all, emotional intelligence - encompassing diversity, compassion and empathy needs to be taught as a standalone subject in schools. Kids need to see that Bethany and those of us who look different are worth getting to know, and that they need not fear or ridicule difference. I really love this resource - especially this:

"Strategy: Nobody should exclude another student from sitting next to him or her and/or from playing with him or her.

Why: It will hurt the feelings of that student. You have an opportunity to make a new friend." It's great to see the onus of stopping bullying being placed on the bullies, rather than those being bullied." 

This little girl was loved by her family and a group of friends but that wasn't enough for her to know she was worthy. 

I wish some of us adults with facial differences could have known Bethany and taken her under our wings and said "it gets better". That she could be her own hero.

This was me age nine. I wanted to die because of the way children bullied and excluded me because of my skin. Friends tell me they were bullied to the point of wanting to end their lives because of their visible differences when they were children too. Years later, it's still happening. It has to stop. It's too sad to comprehend.

Rest in peace beautiful, smart, kind Bethany. I'm sorry you were treated this way. My thoughts and love go to your family and friends. 

There is a gofundme to help Bethany's family with funeral expenses. Please drop them a few dollars if you can spare it, or share the link.


Lifeline: 131114, Kids Helpline: 1800551800, or the crisis line in your country.

Changing Faces and YP Face It are also good resources to help young people with facial differences.

I am not a doctor nor a psychologist, but I have lived experience in living with a facial difference. You can always reach out to me, too.

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