Hell and A Happy Ending

by Steph Bazzle

“One of my classmates told me today that I’m going to Hell,” says my son. He’s eight.

Let me say that a different way. My eight year old child came home and told me that a classmate says he’s going to burn and suffer and be tormented forever, for as long as he can imagine and longer still.

Those aren’t the words used – the child used a rather innoccuous euphemism, actually. He didn’t even say ‘Hell’. He said ‘down there’. But we know what Hell means. Why beat around the bush? That was the message: you will burn and hurt and die forever.

We’ve been over this many times, and the “No, you’re not going to Hell” response has been quite thoroughly done, so instead I asked him what he said back.

“I told him I wasn’t going to discuss it.” Okay.

“How did it start?”

He says, “That part was kinda funny. He took this yellow piece of paper and balled it up and threw it to me and said it was a mesage from God.”

“What did it say?”

“That’s the funny part. I opened it up and it didn’t say anything! It was just blank!”

“Well, that sounds like every message from God I’ve ever had. Then what?”

“I threw it back, and after a while he told me I was going ‘down there’. And then he said he’d told our whole class. Can I go ride my bike now?”

Clearly he wasn’t too upset about the incident, and I sent him on his way. My general rule is, let them talk about it as much as they want and need, and then let them go. The part that worried me most was the wide and sudden spread of the information. This incident was minor – might the next one be less so?

I emailed the teacher, cc’ing the principal and guidance counselor. I left the child’s name out, and stressed that we were not seeking for anyone to be punished, but felt that the relevant staff members needed to be aware of the situation, in case there were any more serious incidents. I expected a dismissive response in my inbox the next morning, letting me know that all children were treated fairly and that they didn’t need any special awareness to properly handle a bullying situation of any kind.

Instead, I got a phone call from the principal, only a few hours later, letting me know that she had received the email, and was already working with the guidance counselor on a presentation to remind kids to treat everyone fairly and kindly, and that this included people of any background, income level, skin color, or religious preference.

I was really pleased and impressed with how quickly she jumped on it, and how sincere she was in her intent to make sure that there would be no future problems.

The most important part is, my kid is satisfied. He’s glad I didn’t mention his classmate’s name. Even though what the classmate said is truly awful, his intent really wasn’t. He was only parroting what he’s been told as fact. That’s usually the case with these things, I think.

And my son sees it the same way- “Yeah, he wasn’t trying to be mean. I mean, he said I was going to hell, but that’s just because he thinks I am.”

He is really glad the counselor is going to do a unit on tolerance, and that it will be for all classes, not just his. This way he’s not singled out, any good it does will also improve the bus and playground experience, where he’ll be with kids other than classmates, and it may improve things for other kids too, who may be having similar experiences and be afraid to speak up.

When I quoted the principal to my son, “And we’ll talk about thinking before we speak, because something like that, like you said, the child didn’t mean to be hurtful but it certainly could have hurt your son very much,” he was downright giddy. I think this is probably the best possible outcome, and that those words are quite possibly the most important part of it.

If kids realize that saying, “You’re going to hell!” or “God is going to punish you!” or “You must be really bad!” are hurtful words, nasty words, then I think many of them won’t say them.

And those who still do? Well, we’ll at least know that they mean it.

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