With the recent rash of young people killing themselves because of the harassing horror they’ve gone through, it’s time to say STOP. No more bullying!
I do not want to hear one more story about a teenager or child who has been bullied. I do not want to see one more news account about how a young person committed suicide because of being harassed and bullied.
Instead, I want to hear how young people are standing up to bullies and how bullies are becoming people who help others—instead of hurting others.
This can happen. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.
We changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the news of multiple school shootings. We became a society with zero tolerance for threats—and to report any threat immediately because any threat could be serious.
This was not an easy change. Young people tend to use threatening language to express their feelings. But we became clear: If you’re mad, say that you’re mad. Don’t say that you want to kill someone.
It’s now time to adopt a zero-tolerance stance on bullying.
Bullying has evolved into a level of terrorism. Bullying is no longer the shove-you-around-the-playground harassment that I witnessed when I was a child. The Internet and cell phones have pushed bullying to a new, dangerous level. Young people now photograph and videotape acts of bullying—or private moments that are meant to be kept private—and post them for the world to see. Technology has added a new level of humiliation.
Extreme bullying can so deeply wound a young person’s soul that the person who was bullied can commit suicide. I’m not exaggerating. In the past month, the national news has reported four teenagers committing suicide because of bullying. They ranged in age from 13 to 18. One school district in my state has had seven suicides in the past year, and parents are angry because most are connected to bullying.
Which young people are bullied? One study reported that 96 percent of young people are bullied at least once. According to GLSEN, which recently published a national school climate survey, the percentage of students who felt unsafe at school because of a personal characteristic included:
Race or ethnicity—8%
The young people who are most likely to get bullied in one community or in one school can be radically different from the kids who are bullied in another place. It depends on who is in the minority. It depends on who is considered an outcast. It may be a Muslim young person. It may be child who is autistic. It may be a young person who is gay.
No young person deserves to be bullied. Ever. No matter who they are.
As parents, it’s time to be very clear to our kids that bullying and harassment are unacceptable. This not only includes what gets posted on social networking sites or spread through e-mail attachments, it also includes how young people talk to each other. Racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks are out. Standing up for kids who are (or may be) getting picked on—should be in.
This also entails working with school officials. Teachers and administrators can be bullies as well as young people. (And there are too many stories of that as well.) I was pleased when one school district fired a teacher for harassing a teenager with a physical disability.
Bullying also is an academic issue. We all talk about “no child left behind,” yet, ironically, any child who is bullied is left behind. Why? Because research clearly shows that students who are frequently harassed have grade point averages almost half a grade lower than students who are harassed less often. It’s hard to concentrate on learning when you’re scared of who’s going to punch you, make fun of you, gang up on you, or post something nasty about you on Facebook.
We also need to be careful not to bully the bullies. They’re people, too. But we need to intervene and work with them to get them to stop. We need to find out why they’re harassing young people. A young person who bullies needs to learn that bullying and harassment are unacceptable behaviors. Completely unacceptable.
So let’s take the issue of bullying as seriously as we took the issues of school shootings and the attacks on our country in 2001. Bullying needs to stop. Harassment needs to stop. All our kids need to feel safe so that they can develop into the best people they can be.
U.S. Department of Education, “Statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the Recent Deaths of Two Young Men,” U.S. Department of Education, October 1, 2010.
ParentFurther, High-Risk Behaviors, Bullying and Violence
Times Wires, “In Suicide’s Wake, a Message to Gay Teens: Hang On; You Are Not Alone,” St. Petersburg Times, October 1, 2010.
GLSEN, The 2009 National School Climate Survey (New York: GLSEN, 2010).
Stuart Wolpert, “Bullying in Schools Pervasive, Disruptive, and Serious, UCLA Study Finds,” UCLA News, December 8, 2003.
Norman Draper and Kelly Smith, “Schools Struggle with Gay Policies, StarTribune, October 2, 2010.
How to Stop Bullying, www.how-to-stop-bullying.com