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Kindness: That Girl Might Be Somebody’s Daughter

In late November I injured my neck at the gym. Years of being a gym rat and the ravages of old age finally caught up with me – banishing me to the couch for over four weeks. I spent that time reading, listening to music from my past, watching reruns of WKRP In Cincinnati – finding new music for when I eventually would return to the gym and watching documentaries. My favorites included films about the Beatles, Amy Weinstein, and a heart warming story about Andrew Peterson, a Special Olympic Marathon Runner who, along with five other children were adopted by Craig Peterson, a single Indiana man – whose kindness changed his life and that of many others.

While watching Andrew’s story, a song played on Amazon Music titled SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER. Having two daughters and three granddaughters, I gave it a listen. Given the title, I assumed it would be similar to the music fare associated with the eight straight Father-Daughter dances I attended with my own daughters – music such as Carol King’s “Child of Mine or “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle.

I always enjoyed those dances, but this tune would never have been played at such a venue. Six seconds into the track a story unfolded – a story indicative of an experience we’ve each had, i.e., seeing a homeless person on the corner of a street holding a cardboard sign. It’s become as familiar as fast-food restaurants off every expressway ramp in America.

The beat almost contradicted the topic, but I found myself drawn into the lyrics that painted sad, and seemingly grainy black and white images about a homeless girl begging for money on the same street corner every evening.

I drive home each day

Two left turns off of the interstate

She’s always standing at the stoplight on 18th street

We’ve  all experienced these empty gazes behind dead eyes while stopped at the traffic light. We might stare straight ahead for fear of making eye contact. Sometimes, we smile… maybe give a half wave. While still other times we wind down the window and drop a few dollars or change into a rusted coffee can being clutched by cold, dry, stained fingers.

If you’re like me, you’ve thought, “How did she get to this place in her life? Is she a victim of the opioid epidemic? Was she abused? Is she scamming people?” The answer could be yes to any of those questions.

Many of the young adult homeless were born into warm, loving families. Some were baptized. Many enjoyed the excitement of birthday parties, first dates, proms and graduations. And then something happened in their lives – or throughout their lives –that brought them to this street corner on a cold winter morning holding a cardboard sign asking for help.

It’s often understandable how those born into poverty might find themselves homeless. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 2.5% of America’s Public School children are homeless – with states such as New York, California, Kentucky and the District of Columbia having the dubious distinction of leading the way.

The Salvation Army, which is one of the largest benefactors for  the homeless suggest a few of the reasons for such a crisis:

  • conflict or breakdown in family life
  • sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the home
  • drug and alcohol issues
  • mental health issues
  • death of a parent

As we have come to know, mental health issues are generally sited as a prime reason for adults to be homeless –including young adults. As such, is bullying and cyberbullying during the teen and pre-teen years  related in any way to mental health issues later in life?

In March of 2018, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson interviewed Dr. Dorothy Espelage, professor of psychology at the University of Florida on the issue of bullying later in a child’s life. Dr. Espelage said, “When we think about being victimized chronically through bullying — we know from the research that decades later — maybe 30 years later — if you’re chronically victimized — you will have a full-blown diagnosis of major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.”

Although the overwhelming amount of people with mental health issues never commit a crime or become homeless – there seems to be yearly stories of homelessness, aggression and occasionally tragic and brutal crimes against children and adults  by those struggling with mental health disorders.

Dylan Bennet Klebold, who was one of the two high school seniors who participated in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, appeared to have been bullied and battled depression. He said, “I swear — like I’m an outcast, & everyone is conspiring against me. …” He was also from the suburbs.

His partner in the massacre, Eric David Harris wrote in his 1998 yearbook, “I’m full of hate and I love it.”

However, reality and data suggest that most bullied kids don’t hurt anyone or become homeless. Rather, they keep it bundled within. Dr. Espelage said, “It seems that victims of bullying are much more likely to internalize. You know … major depressive disorder, anxiety, things that do not include harm to others… it is much too complex to suggest that bullying is the only reason, or is the most important reason, as to why somebody decides to bring a gun to his school.”

Yet mental health professionals agree that such bullying and isolation of children within a peer group can and often does impact their mental health.

In American schools, some researchers suggest that 36% of girls between that ages of 12 and 17 are suffering some mental health issue. For boys, it’s a little over 13%. Such statistics are similar in other countries. But why are these numbers so high as compared to past generations?

Is such an increase due to bullying and cyber-bullying at a young age?

Researchers in Finland analyzed data collected data from about 5,000 children in Finland. The students were asked to complete a bullying questionnaire when they reached the age of 8. Students were asked if they had ever been bullied, had they ever bullied someone else and the frequency of each activity.

Their findings suggest those that had the most mental health issues when they became adults were the 8-year-olds who were frequently bullied and who also had bullied others.  About 31 percent of these subjects had psychiatric problems that required treatment. Moreover, as the report suggested, “They also had the highest rates of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and substance abuse of all four groups analyzed in the study.”

One other note, young ladies were those that were impacted the most.

Why are today’s stats different form past years?  One hypothesis is that prior to the growth of social media – bullying could only take place at school or when a teen or tween was with their peer group. When they came home, all bullying stopped. However, since the majority of teens and tweens now have smartphones – bullying never stops… even while at home.

Now of course, I am not even remotely suggesting that every young homeless person holding a sign is a result of being bullied in school. Nor am I saying that every school shooting or crime that is committed is due to bullying.

However, I am saying that so many children that are bullied or have bullied others has a story. Those stories often lead to one of the biggest reasons for drug addiction, crime and homelessness – poor mental health.

Marathoner, Andrew Peterson was different. His birth mother was an  alcoholic who drank while pregnant with Andrew – leaving him with permanent brain damage that impeded his ability to easily process his speech. He was bullied and often left at home alone. However, the kindness of Craig Peterson, changed his life for the good — lifting him above the prospects of eternal homelessness and mental health issues.

I hope that every teen and tween in the country becomes aware of the story of Andrew Peterson. One can only hope that they adopt the kindness of the Craig Petersons of the world– and help change the lives of others through their words, actions and empathy toward others. Everyone needs a hand up at some point in their lives.

Besides, that bullied girl might be somebody’s daughter.

Merry Christmas

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