“Mom, I’m going to a friend’s house,” my twelve-year-old son calls to me as he is headed out the door.
My first inclination is to stop him, tell him he can’t go, ask who the “friend” is; but I let him go. I let him go because he is trying to be social. He is displaying normal social behavior.
My son has autism. My sweet son who loves to talk and wants to hang out with kids his age, kids older than him, kids younger than him – any kids – is a potential target.
And it terrifies me.
I have seen kids laugh at him, make fun of him behind his back and to his face, I have heard their biting words of rejection and felt tears well up in my eyes as he just shrugs and walks away.
All children get rejected by friends sometimes. All children experience taunting and hurtful behavior by peers occasionally. Some children even get bullied.
And sometimes a line is crossed that is so shocking and so awful, it makes me and every other parent want to lock our children away until adulthood.
On Sunday, bullies allegedly lured ten-year-old Kayden Culp of Kerrville, Texas to a field, doused him with gasoline, and lit him on fire. Kayden is a special needs child who displays autistic tendencies, though it has not been diagnosed, according his family. He thought the boys, ages 9, 10, and 11, were his friends even though they often made fun of him and teased him.
The last update on Kayden’s YouCaring page reports that he has 3rd degree burns on his arm, neck, and chest and will be getting skin grafts. He is fighting infection and pneumonia, but his blood pressure and heart rate are “doing well.”
In an update in The Washington Post, authorities hesitate to call this “premeditated;” citing that the juvenile charged with first degree arson for pouring accelerant onto an existing fire in the shed “discarded” the burning accelerant container which “inadvertently” struck Kayden.
The family, as well as many others across social media, hope and pray that this really was an accident, that Kayden was not lured there with the purpose of causing him harm. Something like this is every special needs parent’s nightmare. How do we let our children grow and experience the world, develop relationships and learn; but still keep them safe when their own self-protection skills may be lacking?
I have jumped to conclusions in the past concerning my son and his treatment by peers. My mama-bear protective instinct goes into maximum crazy overdrive. Kids, as well as people in general, can be rude and mean – unfortunately it’s human nature. But I have to remind myself what bullying is and isn’t:
What bullying is according to stopbullying.gov:
- Unwanted, aggressive behavior that occurs over time.
- Involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
- Ongoing verbal threats, physical or mental attacks, and exclusion from a group.
- Using sexual orientation, physical disability, race, or religion as a reason for the mistreatment.
- Continued spreading of rumors, public humiliation, or stealing or destruction of personal property.
What bullying is not:
- Excluding someone now and then.
- Disliking someone.
- Accidental physical harm.
- Being bossy.
- Telling a joke about someone (once – even though it’s mean).
The important things to remember about bullying are the power imbalances, the frequency, and the intent to cause ongoing harm. I hope and pray that Kayden’s case will be investigated thoroughly to determine whether this was really a case of intentional bullying or a foolish childhood accident.
As parents, we can model for our children how to treat others with kindness and respect. We can help them identify behaviors as bullying. We can keep the lines of communication open and let them know which adults they can trust to go to for help. We can encourage them to engage in activities they love to help build their confidence and encourage healthy, appropriate friendships. Lastly and most importantly, we can teach them how to stand up for themselves and others in the face of a bully. Go to stopbullying.gov for more tips.
Please share Kayden’s story with your children. As terrible as it is, they need to hear it. They need to hear it from two perspectives: one is the bullying perspective and the other is the foolish choices perspective. Was this bullying or was this a foolish choice made by some friends? Either way, it lead to tragic consequences and ruined lives.
The Her View From Home family prays for all of the children and families involved and pledges to do all that we can to prevent bullying and unkind treatment of any type.