Viewpoint: “Helping Others Fit In”


By Kaye Nelson

They’re called weirdos, loners, outcasts, strange ducks, oddballs, crazies, outsiders. They eat alone in the lunchroom, stand by the school building while others play, get laughed and pointed at, taunted, kicked, pummeled and ignored. It happens at any age, but usually begins as children. They just don’t fit in.

What causes kids to be excluded from friendship and the care of someone other than a family member? What things at home and school contribute to kids making choices to wear black, seclude themselves in their rooms, find and hide guns and shoot people?

Many are wondering why 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic carried several guns into a downtown shopping mall and shot nine people, killing five of them.

A Salt Lake Tribune article spoke of a teacher remembering him “trying to belong,” and a friend said he was picked on “because he was different.”

And he’s not the only one. Nearly every teen-age shooter in the past couple of decades has been labeled with those same kinds of excluding words. And the outward signs – trench coats, black clothing, angst, anger, loneliness, frustration, hatred – these are lethal combinations.

This problem needs to be fixed on a giant scale but it can start in small ways. Parents who tell their kids not to play with the weird kid need to change that direction. Replace fear and hesitancy with inclusion and friendship. What if a parent sat down with a child and said, “you know honey, make sure you watch for any kids that need a friend, and then ask them to join in – and keep asking them until they feel included and loved.”

Do these kids look different? Act different? Does mom dress them in clothes that don’t fit even the kid style of the day? Do they have glasses, braces, pimples? Are they chubby, skinny, tall, short? Are they straight A students, geeky computer nerds, book worms, pretty good athletes? Do they have speech impediments, handicaps, learning disabilities? You see the problem – anyone can be a target.

Most kids and teens wouldn’t admit to harassing or excluding someone. And most probably don’t intentionally do that anyway. But what if they were more proactive in watching for “the one.”

What if more kids and teens stood up for the kid that gets teased? Are they so afraid of being ostracized themselves, of losing their hard-earned “normal” label that they can’t jeopardize it by coming to someone’s rescue?

What are we teaching our kids about acceptance and not judging others? Are we practicing those things ourselves? Do our kids hear us talk about how fat someone is, how stupid that driver was, how incompetent our co-worker is? Isn’t that giving our kids license to do the same thing with people they associate with?

Can we really afford not to address this situation? Can we think that this Trolley Square type event won’t happen again? Why tempt fate? Why not try to do some good in the world and reverse this awful trend of ignored and teased teenagers seeking revenge on the ignorant and the innocent?

Talovic’s friend Spencer Critchett said in a Tribune article that things might have turned out differently if he had been treated better by peers and classmates.

If the Dylan Klebolds, Kipland Kinkels and Sulejman Talovics of the world had been treated differently, had felt included instead of teased and ignored, there might be a lot of people alive today. How many more are going to die because of the loners, outcasts and weirdos that are still out there? Do something to change their label. It might save those on both ends of a gun.

Kaye Nelson is the arts and entertainment editor for The Daily Universe

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