Bullying: It's not a rite of passage

Sunday, April 5, 2009

By Chris Guinther

"It's an average teenager's weekday ... going to school, being beat up, having lunch money stolen ... the usual. It's sad to say, but bullying is at its worst these days. About 1 out of every 4 teens admits they are bullies or are being bullied. Many schools don't even care about those things. They say it's just a part of life. Bullies can be very dangerous. Bullies are a part of everyday life, but they shouldn't be. Too many people are being tortured on a daily basis. I may just be a kid, but I hope that I can open your eyes."

After I read this middle school student's essay, my first question was, "Why should any student believe that torturing and bullies are a part of everyday life?" The follow-up question has to be, "What are we doing to help?"

The answer to the first question is simple. Bullying is not just "kids being kids" and should never be considered as a rite of passage. In many cases, it's keeping our children from being successful or it's keeping them from coming to school. In some cases, it's killing them. The "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" report indicates that those who are bullied are five times more likely to be depressed and far more likely to be suicidal.

The answer to the second question lies in the response from Stan Davis, author of "Schools Where Everyone Belongs," who states, "I am convinced that bullying prevention is primarily something we do rather than something we teach."

We need to model the behavior that we want our kids to emulate by being careful of our own "teasing" of others; remember that if we're referring to another person's size, sexuality, intelligence, religion or race, it's not teasing -- it's bullying. In addition, we need to make sure that when our kids watch television where the main character engages in bullying behaviors, children learn that it's not OK to engage in that kind of behavior.

We need to support schools that engage in whole-school campaigns against bullying -- where everyone in the school takes personal responsibility in helping others feel safe everywhere in the building. Missouri National Education Association's "No MOre Bullying" program helps school communities make a whole-school campaign against bullying a part of the school culture. In schools working to achieve whole-school campaigns, students, staff and parents take on the responsibility to ensure safety of targets and bystanders. Further, members of these school communities realize that social behaviors of those who are bullying must change.

The bottom line is that bullying can be controlled, provided there is a strong commitment and willingness to recognize the problem and work together to solve it. It's not an easy task, and requires that we confront the realities and impact of our own behaviors. We must become a "telling" rather than a "tattling" culture -- where it is our responsibility to get help for someone in danger, rather than just to get someone else in trouble.

Ending bullying is about examining the way we interact with each other and modeling appropriate behavior to our children. Reducing and eliminating bullying will take more than attending a workshop, seeing a movie or reading a book.

Please join in as we engage our communities in campaigns against bullying. It's our responsibility to make sure that each of our children has opportunities to realize his or her fullest potential. Help us as we work to make our schools and communities safe for every child.

Chris Guinther is president of Missouri National Education Association and national trainer for the NEA Bullying and Sexual Harassment and Intervention Cadre.

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