Is it possible that a bullied teen could feel helpless enough to try suicide because their parents have shamed them for their troubles?
Maybe the parents have always been critical, and that certainly would not have ever helped a bullied teenager feel hopeful about the future.
This isn’t about blaming the parents. It’s about explaining how the parents fit into the equation of kids attempting suicide (whether they succeed or not) as a result of bullying.
There are people who insist that when a teen or adolescent becomes suicidal “because of” bullying, there has to be much more to it—namely, bad parents who make their kids’ lives miserable.
The bullying at school or online only compounds things.
“This has become a popular idea,” says Israel (Izzy) Kalman, MS, nationally certified school psychologist; director of Bullies to Buddies: and author of numerous books and publications on bullying and relationship problems.
“But this is because most people, even those who take a hard line against bullying, protesting about what a horrible, intolerable problem it is, and demanding the harshest punishments for bullies, have a hard time believing that kids will actually kill themselves for no other reason than that they are being bullied. They assume the parents must be making them miserable as well.
“I strongly disagree with this. Of course this can be the case, but it is not a necessary condition. I have worked with a number of kids who were suicidal because of being bullied, and as far as I could discern, the parents were positive and supportive.
“But as kids come closer to adolescence, relationships with peers become increasingly important to them.
“If they feel their peers don’t accept them, it far outweighs the benefits of parental support.”
I’m going to stop here for a moment and remind you of a phenomenon you may have learned in a psychology class called “learned helplessness.”
There are famous studies done with rats and monkeys that demonstrate this. But learned helplessness happens in humans all the time.
Bullied Teens Learn to Be Helpless from the Parents
Dr. Kalman says that in most cases of bullying, “the parents become as depressed as the kids because they suffer their children’s pain. They will often try hard to make their kids feel better, getting them professional help and pressuring the school to make the bullying stop.
“But the parents’ misery only compounds the kids’ misery, and the parents’ helplessness in trying to make the bullying stop reinforces the kids’ sense of helplessness as well.
“They feel so hopeless because even their parents and the school cannot make the bullying stop. So they feel they have no way out, and they take their own lives.
“The truly sad thing is that such kids can be saved quite easily. However, the adults who are trying to help them do not know how to teach them to solve their problems.
“Many of my bullied clients had been in counseling or therapy and it did nothing to help them stop being bullied.”
The Impact Parents Have on Their Bullied Children
Below are selected comments, copied-and pasted (not edited; there are typos, poor grammar) from people who, as teens, were bullied and who attempted suicide.
Each paragraph pertains to one post (seven paragraphs = seven different posters).
Suicidal Bullied Kids Place Blame on Their Parents (and other family members): Actual Posts
“I attempted suicide at 14 because my family turned on me as some horrible kid for skipping school and at school i was spit on daily and assaulted regularly.”
“My mother was the biggest bully in my life. All my growing up years Mother Dearest bullied myself and my sister mercilessly after our father walked out (because he could not stand my mother anymore).
I and my sister were both suicidal almost all throughout our teen years but especially she was at age 13 and I really had to watch her closely because I was afraid she really would take her own life then.
I also knew I had nobody in my world who would understand my pain if she didn’t live through that.
Yes there were bullies at school and yes they totally exacerbated the problem, especially for her. It really hurts when you can’t go to your own mom about bullies because the biggest bully in your life is her.”
“As a teen, I struggled with depression. I became suicidal. It was NOT a result of bullying, even though I had been. I went to my mother for help. You know, since parents are supposed to listen.
She would roll her eyes and tell me to get over it, because teens can’t get depressed and have no idea what depression is really like.
She was also aware of the situation that started the downward spiral and didn’t believe that either.”
“I’ve thought about taking my own life since I was seventeen. Actually attempted several times. I should have been on meds and seeing a therapist as a teenager.
My family, however, viewed therapy as a personal attack on them and the way they were raising me. I was told to quit whining and grow up.
How many teenagers in this country are dealing with just this kind of home life?”
“I have found from dealing with a family member who has attempted suicide 3 times in his life last being 15 years ago that he grew up in an abusive home was bullied etc. it was more that fact that as he says the people that should have cared didn’t it wasn’t the bullying it was other family members not being there. they tried professional help etc but it’s not just getting them the help its really having to reassure them that you are there for them and not going anywhere and what they mean to you and others who do really care.”
“I attempted suicide as a young teen and in my case it was because of bullying and being the one to get blamed for everything at home.
My mother always said that I was just like her sister, with whom she always had a rocky relationship. I have come to realize that is the reason she always treated me like I was the family demon.
The truth was that I had a more adventurous spirit than she or my older sister and she couldn’t relate to or accept it.”
“I tried twice, once when I was just 14 the other when I was 23.. I came from a broken and violent home.
I was picked on as a kid because we were so poor we would have to wear the same clothes to school twice in a row and of course we didn’t have much.
My attempts had far more to do with my parents and their screwed up issues than it did with bullying, but just like him [a suicide survivor featured in the Yahoo article] I think it did affect my self worth and made it easier for me to attempt suicide since I didn’t think I was worth anything.”
Are the parents of a suicide victim who was bullied partly to blame for the child’s actions? You be the judge.
Dr. Kalman is a psychotherapist in private practice and has treated many victims of bullying for over 20 years. He has published extensively on solutions to bullying.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.