Finding the Courage to Do What's Right...
Your Child and Bullying
One bright fall Monday morning, a 13-year-old student brought a gun to school. He shot and killed a respected teacher, injured two other students, and then took his own life. Stories like this one are in the headlines all too often but this one was different: this one happened here in our own Reno/Sparks community.
We may never know exactly what was in the mind of the young man with the gun, but it appears that bullying may have been involved. Bullying—and its high-tech cousin, cyberbullying—are in the news so often that we scarcely listen to the stories anymore. Or we may shake our heads sadly and say, “Kids are so mean. Why do they do that?” Why, indeed? Just a week before, the news was all about a girl who leaped to her death from an abandoned concrete plant because two other girls had made her life a living hell—and apparently felt little or no remorse for doing so.
Here’s the thing that may really shock you: According to a recent study of nine- to 13-year-olds—the precise age group we’re talking about here—86% had seen a child being bullied and 42% had bullied another child. Forty-two percent—almost half—had not only watched, but participated in tormenting someone.
Parents, hear me on this. The chances are good that your own child has witnessed bullying. The chances are also good that your own child has, at some point, been a bully. And yes, unkindness and social wrestling for position and status are part of childhood and adolescence, and kids who bully are not horrible people. But I believe the intensity and frequency of these social assaults has increased dramatically, aided by texting, tweeting, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and all the other ways we have of connecting with each other. These are immature and unskilled young people whose brains are not yet good at controlling impulses: the results can be devastating for those who stand out in some way.
So let me tell you a hopeful story. A few years ago, in Nova Scotia, Canada, a new freshman student arrived at high school wearing, for reasons known only to himself, a pink shirt. He was targeted by several other students, who called him the sort of vulgar and offensive names I’ll leave you to guess. It got pretty intense, and no one stood up for the new kid. Two of the most popular senior boys, however, saw what was happening, and decided, “Not in our school.” The next day, they wore pink shirts. The day after that, there were more pink shirts. And then more. And what began as an act of courage and kindness became a movement. Those two young men changed their school, and eventually received a proclamation from the provincial governor for their courage.
And that’s what it takes. Bullies won’t stop the bullying: they get too much power from it. And victims can’t stop the bullying: they already have no power. Research shows clearly that it’s the bystanders—your kids—who can make a difference by finding the courage to say, “stop.”
Parents, please talk to your children about this. Ask them what they’ve seen and heard. And make it clear that bullying someone, or standing by and allowing it to happen, is not okay. Yes, it takes a great deal of courage to step forward; many adults hesitate to intervene when someone is being hurt in some way, even though they believe they should. Which is why it takes all of us. Schools, you can make a difference by having class meetings and teaching students about mutual respect, compassion, and courage. We need to make our schools and playgrounds safe places for our children, before we lose anyone else. Let’s do our best to model and teach compassion, respect, and kindness.
| Posted by cheryl | Thursday, October 31, 2013|