Bullying is Still a Big Problem

Alone on the School Bus by woodleywonderworks from Flickr

Alone on the School Bus by woodleywonderworks from Flickr

When a stranger belittles a stranger, he’s a jerk. When he hits a stranger, it’s assault.
When a person belittles or hits their romantic partner, it’s domestic violence.
When a parent belittles or hits their child, it’s child abuse.
When a child belittles or hits another child, it’s kids being kids?!?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

National Stop Bullying Day is on February 9th this year. I feel compelled to bring up this topic again because this is a problem that is not going away fast enough.

Bullying is a big problem, and it’s a deadly problem. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death of youth age 12-19 in the U.S. but it’s the leading cause of death of LGBT teens. Seventeen year-old Josh Pacheco of Michigan committed suicide two months after he came out last November. His family claims his suicide was the result of bullying. The school reported that they didn’t know it was going on, but stories from others have emerged since his death that suggest it was commonly known.

These deaths shouldn’t happen. We all know which kids get picked on at school – you can tell that they’re miserable even if they haven’t directly reported that they’re being abused by their peers. And unfortunately, there are recent reports where families have informed the school that their child was being bullied and they allegedly did nothing. Just this week, there was a report about a mother in Gilbert who moved her daughter to another school because she was being bullied. The girl was allegedly stabbed with a pencil and physically attacked so badly that she had bruises.  The school has an anti-bullying policy in accordance with Arizona law, but officials appeared to ignore it.

This mother did the right thing. She reported the abuse when she learned about it and she took action to protect her daughter’s safety when the school failed to do it. Could she pursue a lawsuit against the school and criminal charges against the perpetrators? Probably, but that’s a personal decision. The mother’s obligation is to her child. I hope the school takes a closer look at their staff’s lack of action when they learned of the bullying and takes steps to remedy it. I suspect the bullies in this situation will move on to a new target unless they are stopped.

If you want to know what laws are on the books in your state regarding bullying, you can look them up here.

If you know or even suspect that bullying is occurring, do something. Don’t say silent and let a child suffer needlessly. And remember, bullying is a learned behavior. There’s a chance that the bullies themselves need help either because they have emotional problems that their family is ignoring it or perhaps the bully is being abused and the only way they know to cope with it is to abuse someone else.

BULLY – Go See It!

Candlelight Vigil by B. W. TownsendI had the pleasure of attending an advanced screening of Bully last week. I rarely go to the movies, so if you see me in a theatre, you know I’m really motivated to be there. If you haven’t seen it, go see it – and take your kids! It’s only showing for a short time, so get on it.

Bullying is a life-or-death problem. Children are killing themselves to escape bullying and cyberbullying. If you don’t believe me, asked Kirk and Laura. Their 11 year-old son Ty killed himself because he was bullied so badly at school. They created an organization in his memory called Stand For The Silent to empower young people to stand up to bullies.

Bully was originally rated R because of the language. It was only after the movie that I realized that the language that would have made it rated R was coming out of the mouths of the kids! And this is a documentary – it wasn’t scripted swearing. It’s ironic that the MPAA initially decided that children shouldn’t see the movie because middle schoolers were voluntarily swearing in the film.

This movie will break your heart. It follows several bullied kids at different schools. It was sad to see their dejected faces that showed they’ve resigned themselves to being the bullied child with no hope that their situation could get better. One child’s story was particularly disturbing. He had almost no expression on his face. He had no friends and he was hit, strangled, and harassed every day on the bus. Even when he was asked, he never mentioned how bad things were to his family. His parents had no idea what their child experienced until the producers showed them the footage. They took their concerns to the school to only have their concerns minimized and dismissed. I hope the school has changed now that thousands of people have seen how ineffective they were.

I was really impressed by one of the bullied kids, Kelby. She’s a lesbian and her family was rejected by their small community when she came out. Her father offered to move the family so she could live in a more accepting community and she declined. She decided to stay because she said if she moved, the bullies would win. By the end of the film, she dropped out of school because it wasn’t worth it to her to be there anymore. I admire her efforts to fight the good fight. People like Kelby are the reason why the law needs to allow kids to drop out of school at 16 and get a GED instead. If school is not a safe place, then students shouldn’t be forced to be there.

When the movie ended, I was left asking myself, “What’s the answer?” Schools need to do what is necessary to stop bullying and not dismiss, ignore, or blame the victims. Every school should be mandated to have an anti-bullying program. Educators should be required to educate and protect their students, and if they can’t do one of those jobs, they need to find a new profession. Every person at a school (teachers, administrators, and students) should foster an environment of acceptance. If a school is not protecting its students from bullies, the school should be publically called out on sites like Great Schools and be held accountable for their ineffectiveness.