Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bullying Sucks.




Bullying is a sensitive subject for me, being as my oldest child has been the victim of it numerous times. He came home from kindergarten many times, upset because “Jake” was picking on him at school. He’d hit him, pinch him, and call him names, all while in class. There were several times when my son fought to stay home. After a few such incidents, I contacted his teacher to see what she knew and to find out what she was doing about it. She wasn’t even aware of it. She insisted that it wasn’t going on; she’d never seen anything of the sort in the class and to the best of her knowledge, “Jake” and my son got a long great.  Believing that she was attentive to what was happening in her class, I wrote it off as the exaggerating of a six year old boy.

 Then he came home from school with a bright red mark of a small handprint on his thigh. My son told me that while he was in the bathroom, his friend “Jake” had grabbed his leg and squeezed so hard that it actually left a handprint. I took a picture and brought it to the teachers’ attention that next day. I was informed that, yes, “Jake” does have some anger issues. And that was the end of the story. Fortunately, it was at the end of the year and I put in a formal request with the principal that my son and his tormentor be put in separate classes in second grade.

My request was granted, however I really began to worry about the bullying that occurs in schools. It can happen right under a teacher’s watchful eye and they aren’t even aware of the problem. Approximately 160,000 children miss school every year because they fear the bullying they know they’ll be subjected to. Intimidation and fear of attack account for 15% of all absenteeism during the school year. (MBNBD (2009) Facts and Statistics).  Bullying can happen to anyone, at any time. Certain things can contribute to it and those who others may see as weak or “different” are often targets. Children that are perceived as unpopular or exhibit low-esteem can also be mercilessly picked on.

Often there are indications that a child is being bullied, even if the actual act is never observed by a teacher or person in a position of authority. Unexplained injuries and frequently broken or missing possessions are telltale signs. Children who are bullied often fake illness to avoid school, but they can actually get sick from the stress bullying causes and many children suffer from bleeding ulcers, headaches and stomach complaints.

The effects of intimidation and harassment on a child are many and far-reaching. They are more likely to suffer from mental issues, such as depression and low self-esteem which can follow them into adulthood. They have more health complaints, and their school work and grades can suffer dramatically. 

Another factor?  Revenge. It is estimated that in the 1990s, 12 out of the 15 school shootings were instigated by children who had been victimized by bullying. (MBNBD (2009). Facts and Statistics). Take for example, the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. While the act itself was heinous, it was revealed that both the shooters were bullied at school and were seeking a generalized revenge. It is no excuse for the murders, but it leaves one to wonder if the outcome had been different if school officials, adults or even fellow students had stepped in at one time or another and stopped the professed bullying of these students. Unfortunately, during the aftermath of the tragedy, gun control advocates stepped in to spread their message and the focus became about them, rather than focusing on what could have been an ideal time to discuss the effects and prevention of bullying. 

Another disturbing consequence of bullying can be juvenile suicide. According to a study at Yale Institute, children who are the victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to kill themselves than those who are not. (Bullying Statistics.org)

Bullying can extend its reach far out of the classroom and onto the Internet. “Cyber bullying” is just as harmful and to date, there have been several recent cases covered in the media. Many have ended in suicide, like in the case of Megan Meier who hung herself after a friend’s mother harassed her through the social site, MySpace, pretending to be a boy with whom Meier developed feelings for. (Wikipedia 2012) Meier is far from the only case. Many states have implemented an Anti-Bullying Legislation in an attempt to prevent and punish those who create such situations. Unfortunately, these legislations are unfunded and have no real impact on the issue, and some Christian groups actually are fighting these laws because they believe that it fosters acceptance of homosexual children.

"We feel more and more that [gay] activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled." (Denver Post, 2010) The quote is from the “education expert” from the extremist “Focus on the Family” group. 

This quote seems to actually prove the opposite; Focus on the Family is using the important issue of bullying to further their hate-filled agenda. Their propaganda actually hurts students who suffer in silence while being humiliated and exposed to bullying at schools. Homosexual or not, every child has the right, and the need, to feel safe and unthreatened at school, and the hatred of one over-zealous group of fanatics should not have the power to impede that right. However, that’s exactly what is happening. 

In Arizona, the group actually persuaded the local government to kill an anti-bullying bill because of their belief that it carried a “gay friendly agenda.” (The Huffington Post; Politics 2012).
While anti-bullying laws are not the end-all solution to this terrible epidemic, they are a start in the right direction, and unfortunately misguided groups such as these are a hindrance to any progress that could be made.  Because of this lack of support, and a lack of funding, it becomes necessary to take action at a local level. 

Many schools have incorporated programs, held informational assemblies, printed t-shirts and organized events. But it’s not enough. We need to step up and stop it when we see it. We need to speak up when it happens to us, despite the fear of retaliation. Educators need to be more diligent and pay attention to the warning signs and changing moods of the children they see eight hours every day. They are the children’s first line of defense against bullying and without the support, attentiveness and compassion of their teachers, intimidation, violence and fear will continue to permeate the lives of one out of every five children.

It’s cycle that needs to stop. 

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