Boys are not well known for talking to their parents about what’s going on for them, but I believed the transition from primary school to high school was going smoothly for my 13–year-old son, Will.
My son was a happy, healthy, sporty kid who loved football. He was a rugby forward who represented his school and he was built like a rugby forward should be; solid, definitely not fat, but solid.
I started to notice a difference in him when we went on a family holiday. He was reducing his food intake, asking questions about diets. I just thought he wanted to get fit for the upcoming football season, but after a few months his weight loss was really dramatic.
He was hiding food from his plate and refusing to eat. He’s a tall boy who lost over 20 kilos in six months, and he was withdrawn and no longer acting like the kid I knew.
We tried the school counsellor and a few other options but the school just sat with him to ensure he ate, and no one was addressing what was the cause of the issue. We needed to uncover why he was starving himself.
We finally we found a psychiatric nurse who spoke to him on his level and suddenly Will came clean about why he was so tortured.
He was being bullied for being fat.
He was relentlessly teased by kids at school who would come up behind him and lift his shirt, laughing and singing songs about him. He was bombarded on social media. Cruel private messages, SnapChat, AskFM. He couldn’t get away from it and it ate into every aspect of his life.
Listening to my son tell this nurse that he was receiving death threats for being overweight was heartbreaking, he said: “I never realised I was such an ugly, fat creature so I needed to change my body to be accepted.”
How does this happen?
I’m a teacher myself. How did no one notice that this was going on at the school, why did no one help? How did it get to this?
By the time he was hospitalised, his heart was failing and the doctors told me I was losing my little boy. Our whole world stopped for a year while we just tried to keep him alive. Will was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics to help us control his “self-talk.”
He could not get all of the hurtful things they said about him out of his head.
I know now that he was using too much social media. He was too young. All kids under 15 are too young to be on it, or at the very least their parents need to have the password and regularly check what’s going on. Is your child receiving and sending appropriate messages?
They’re too young to understand the consequences, and more and more kids are getting messed up. We’re seeing kids cutting themselves, or being promiscuous, because they’re not able to process, or deal with what happens on there adequately.
We’ll never stop social media or technology so it’s paramount that we teach our kids resilience, and responsibility around the usage of it.
It’s been three years, and we’re still coming out the other side. He puts less pressure on himself about food, but it's still there. We’re doing so much better, his moods are much more stable, he's back playing football and I can see my happy boy is slowly coming back.
I want to blame the kids that did this, but I know that the ringleaders are probably damaged too. They must be to inflict such pain on someone else.
Being a teenager is really hard time for anyone, it’s the formative time, and stuff just seems so big and important even though it might be irrelevant in the big picture. As busy parents it is imperative we make the time to know and understand what’s going on in our kids life otherwise we may notice something is wrong too late.