One (1) out of three (3) children is bullied each year. Children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being bullied than their peers. ENUF (Ending Negativity to Unify Families) is an anti-bullying online campaign that will encourage families to empower themselves and their children. On behalf of the ENUF campaign, the following interview is part of the ENUF INNERview Series here on HYH Online. For more information about the ENUF campaign visit us on Facebook at Facebook.com/esilentvoice
Our guest, Michael Young is a graduate of Brigham Young University with a degree in German Teaching and a minor in Music. He puts his German to good use teaching online German courses for High School students. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in Community Theater, playing and writing music and spending time with his family. He played for several years with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square and is now a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
He is the author of the novels THE CANTICLE KINGDOM, THE CANTICLE PRELUDE and THE LAST ARCHANGEL. He is also the author of the inspirational pamphlet PORTRAIT OF A MOTHER, a contributor to the anthology PARABLES FOR TODAY, the co-author of VOICES IN YOUR BLOOD and the author of several web serials through BigWorldNetwork.com. His most recent work is SING WE NOW OF CHRISTMAS, an anthology of short stories with the proceeds going to charity. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign.
YVONNE PIERRE: Growing up you experienced and survived being bullied. Please share with us your experience.
MICHAEL YOUNG: I had several things going against me growing up. Not only did I wear thick glasses, but I was overweight and belonged to a religion that some people thought strange. I avoided things that other kids did, like swearing, drinking coffee, and even watching violent movies. I often had my nose in a book and took my studied seriously.
Name calling, teasing, and being left out were my lot in life most days at school from about third to eight grade. Being the kind of person I am, I never felt prone to violence or confrontation of any kind and so most of the time suffered in silence. I confided in my parents and they did their best to speak to the parents of the bullies, but this rarely brought lasting change. My teachers and principals offered help and suggestions, but most of them went counter to my personality—like thinking of worse names to call the bullies.
Fortunately for me, I always did some friends wherever I went. My father was a pilot for the US Air Force and so we moved every few years, and so no one bully remained a problem for long. The largest factor in me being able to cope with the constant bullying was my support system at home. I am the oldest of eight children, all of whom are friends. They always treated me kindly and made me feel like they looked up to me as a big brother. I remember my spunky little sister getting so angry hearing about the bullies that she’d offer all the time to go “sock them in the nose.” I assured her that this wouldn’t help, but I appreciated her sentiment.
My parents raised me in a religious environment, and while my self-esteem often suffered, I could always count that my parents loved me, and so did our Father in Heaven. They made home a refuge for me to which I could escape between long days at school.
YVONNE: How were you able to use your experience to work for you and rise above it to become the successful father, husband, professional and artist you are today?
MICHAEL: I think the entire experience made me feel greater compassion for others, especially those whom others exclude or persecute. When I started to have success in music and writing, it felt especially good to have defied the taunts of those who had put me down, and this motivated me to prove my worth. It has helped me realize that deep at the heart of every bully is someone who is hurting and that I shouldn’t judge others, even if I don’t agree with their actions. Above all, it proved to me that I’m strong when it faced with difficult challenges, which has spurred me continue in other difficult tasks.
YVONNE: As a father of two children with special needs, what was your initial reaction when your children were diagnosed with Down syndrome and Autism?
MICHAEL: In both cases, the initial shock hit me hard. There’s a paradigm shift that happens when you get news like that—your entire view of your children’s future changes. That adjustment is painful and it was hard for a little while not to get caught up in what things they would not be able to do or experience. In both instances, however, the shock wore off quickly, and I started focusing on the things that I could control and the positive attributes of my children. I could not ask for two better natured children.
YVONNE: Speaking as a mom of a son with Down syndrome, there are things that I’ve personally learned about myself and life. Children in general change our perspectives, what have you learned about life through your children?
MICHAEL: I have learned not to discount people. My children constantly surprise me with their progress and the things they learn despite their limitations. They both have helped me cut out distractions and see what elements are most important in life. My sons know what is important—togetherness, learning, service, good music, and being happy every day. That pretty much sums them up. They have also taught me much about forgiveness. My sons quickly forgive anyone who has wronged them. They never hold grudges and when I am ever tempted to respond with frustration, they counter it will love, and my negative feelings quickly melt away. I dearly wish that I could be as constantly happy and love as conditionally as they do.
YVONNE: How do you deal with the concern of your children possibly being bullied?
MICHAEL: I only hope to build for them the same support system that I enjoyed. If I create a loving environment and a haven for them, I hope that they will be able to weather the storms as I did. I teach my children that violence or name-calling is never the answer to dealing with any conflict.
YVONNE: Sometimes our experiences teach us lessons, what lessons have you learned from that experience that you are able to pass on to your students?
MICHAEL: I have learned that everyone, no matter how happy they may seem, has something they are struggling with. We all carry things we hide from the rest of the world, and sometimes these things cause people to behave badly. I teach them that we should all be as kind as possible to everyone we meet, because you do not know what they are dealing with.
YVONNE: What advice would you like to give to other parents of children with special needs?
MICHAEL: Focus on the positives. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your children to others. They will learn and progress at their own pace and will often surprise you with the wonderful things they say and do. On the hard days, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, see what you can learn from the experience. I believe these children are sent to us for a reason, not so much as for what we can teach them, but for what they can teach us.
YVONNE: How can people get in touch with you?
YVONNE: Before we go, do you have any closing remarks?
MICHAEL: No matter how bad things may seem at the moment, there is always hope for the future. I used to think when I was younger, that I would never be a success as an adult, that I would never find someone to marry or to fulfill my goals. Because of the constant bullying, I felt myself too unlikeable for these things.
Today, however, I have achieved all of these things and more besides. You cannot let other people define the success you have in life. If you refuse to listen to the naysaying of others, and take responsibility for your own future, you can accomplish your goals.