Ashlynn Connor

We are too late to protect ten-year-old Ashlynn Connor.

Ashlynn’s suffering has led her to join the growing list of ‘bullycide’ tragedies, and her desperate act is a horrible but crucial reminder that as long as teachers tell kids seeking help not to “tattle” and parents lack the full range of skills and information they can use to advocate for a child, the strongest bullying prevention policies will be meaningless.

According to The Daily, this school district has a strong anti-bullying policy, but it was not enforced at the school.

“Kids had bullied Ashlynn for years, calling her a ‘slut,’fat, and ‘ugly’, …Three different teachers at the school had told Ashlynn to ‘stop tattling’ after she reached out for help.” Her mother, Stacy, had told her daughter to go to the principal if it happened again, but, feeling unable to face the misery any longer, Ashlynn hung herself instead.

Too many kids feel miserable because of bullying, and adults are responsible for intervening to prevent pain, injury, and even death.

Telling kids not to tattle or to solve it themselves is not supportive intervention, and it can actually fuel the problem. Kids don’t have a choice about going to school, and we must ensure that they are in an environment that fosters respect, caring, and safety for everyone, not just as a written policy but as a practice that each person lives and breathes every single moment of every single day.

When a school fails to create this safe environment, the failure is an adult failure. Fixing it should be an adult problem, not a kid problem. Many kids will find the thought of talking to school officials overwhelming.

As soon as a problem starts to surface, our job as parents is to go to the school and find solutions that protect our kids rather than blaming them for “tattling.”

To end the trauma and tragedy caused by bullying, it is time for the word “tattling” to become obsolete in the vocabulary of educators and parents everywhere. We don’t need it, and being told “not to tattle” has injured and killed too many hurting kids.

The word “tattling” means that someone is trying to get someone else into trouble by “telling on” them – and, in the dynamics of a school or family, this definitely happens. Unfortunately, labeling this behavior as “tattling” and just telling kids “don’t’ tattle” doesn’t help them to solve problems or teach them how to find better ways of getting attention.

Shaming labels like these can stop young people from getting help when they really need it because they don’t want to be a “tattletale” or “snitch.” Telling kids not to tattle builds the code of silence that can perpetuate both bullying and abuse.

If a child comes to you complaining about someone, clearly this child needs something from you. Instead of labeling this as “tattling”, we can:

  1. Say, “Thank you for telling me. Let’s see what we can do to fix this problem.”
  2. Take the time to listen to kids to understand what the situation is and help them to find positive ways to relate to each other.
  3. Be compassionate and redirect negative behavior without shaming anyone.

When kids need help with solving a conflict with a classmate or sibling, we can coach them in how to speak up, listen, work things out, leave, find something else to do, and get help.

When kids are acting unsafely with their bodies or words, we can interrupt this behavior and reward them for being respectful, patient, and kind.

When kids need help with communicating with peers in a positive way, we can coach them to project a respectful, confident attitude, deal with disappointment, and negotiate successful relationships.

When children complain about another child in order to get attention or to feel important, we can coach them to think of positive ways of meeting these needs.

When children make themselves feel powerful by trying to get someone in trouble, we can appeal to their empathy and encourage them to be a leader in making everyone feel welcome.

Teachers and yard duty supervisors need support to take these important safety steps in the context of what can be overwhelming realities of their jobs. They, too, need help and proactive support rather than blame in order to succeed at giving kids what they need to be safe.

“Bullycide” victims are like the canaries in a coal mine who die because the level of carbon monoxide is dangerously high. Bullying creates a toxic environment, and kids who are poisoned by it want to escape. They might resist going to school, escape into fantasy, start bullying others, ease the pain with alcohol or drugs, or try to die.

This is an emergency. We must all do everything we can to protect young people from despair and hopelessness by creating positive school cultures and empowering everyone with skills.

We are too late to protect Ashlynn. We have the opportunity to do everything in our power not to make a similar mistake again. In her honor, let’s make the most of that opportunity.

Our Bullying Prevention Resource page has information about free articles, podcasts, and videos; publications for sale; and workshops and training.

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.

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