Mom of child who committed suicide after bullying asks community to be proactive

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Students, staff members and parents of the Freehold Township K-8 School District have received advice from the founder of a nonprofit organization who seeks to promote positivity and put the “human” back into “humanity.”

Dianne Grossman, the founder of Mallory’s Army, recently spoke separately to pupils and parents at the West Freehold School.

The organization is named for Grossman’s daughter, Mallory, who committed suicide in 2017 at the age of 12. At the time of Mallory’s death, published reports indicated she had been subjected to bullying and harassment from her middle school classmates.

Following the death of her daughter, Grossman filed legal action against the Rockaway Township School District in Morris County.

“I thank you for the invite because you are saying you want to learn,” she said. “It is my honor to share my story with you. We cannot fix what we don’t acknowledge. We need to work together as a community.”

As part of working together as a community, she discussed being tolerant toward all children.

“We have to talk about all of our children,” Grossman said. “There are no weird children. There are children with disabilities, children with struggles, but none are weird. There are only children who march to the beat of their own drum. Being different is what makes you unique. Some children are just different from yours and you need to be true to who you are.”

Grossman said the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 is suicide, which she said can be directly prevented by the individual. She urged people to be proactive instead of reactive.

“Reactive means we have to make a sacrifice,” she said. “Reactive means it already happened. Proactive means we become better people.”

Addressing school district staff members, Grossman suggested not using a term such as “investigation” when responding to a student’s report of being bullied because that word implies doubt of the student’s claim.

“Don’t tell children you are going to investigate (a report of bullying),” she said. “Stop using terms like ‘investigation.’ Say ‘tell me more.’ ”

Grossman advised administrators to create a culture where staff members will be able to know what is taking place in school and to have an overall picture of an incident. She stressed the importance of identifying the instigator and advised district staff that children who are hurt will hurt back, which makes it crucial to identifying those children and to help them.

Grossman asked parents to be in a state of self-education and to remember to be parents to their children, not friends.

“You have to be their parents, not their friends,” she said. “Children don’t have a right to privacy until they are 18. Put up parental locks on their phones. Close social media for them at a certain time and charge their phones downstairs or in another room so they can’t use them at night.

“Focus on their social media profiles and anything that promotes anonymous behavior, which lets them be someone they’re not. Know what applications they use. Take their phones away if they misbehave. Carry through as parents, not friends,” she said.

Grossman acknowledged Mallory had once teased a Russian student and she said it was important for parents to teach their children to be better when such instances occurred instead of making excuses for them.

“Don’t defend bad behavior,” she said. “Stop making excuses for your child’s behavior. Turn it into a teachable moment.”

She advised parents to become part of the solution instead of the problem by knowing who to speak with when an incident occurs, knowing who the members of the local Board of Education are and becoming involved with parent-teacher organizations.

Grossman said she sees Mallory’s legacy as one of positivity. She said her daughter wanted a “bracelet kind of life” with recognition of showing good in the world and said the blue bands created by Mallory’s Army demonstrate individuals openly taking a stand against bullying.

“This band reminds people of the good in the world,” Grossman said. “That is the legacy my daughter has left us; a legacy that puts ‘human’ back in ‘humanity’ and teaches us to be positive to others.”