There’s been a lot of talk in the news media about vaccinations, autism, meningitis, and the dangers of smoking. If you’ve seen the commercial about whooping cough where grandma turns into a wolf, you might have asked yourself, whether some ad executive has gone rogue.
What I’m not seeing much of is the anti-bullying conversation, which in my humble opinion is as great a health risk and therefore as relevant a public health topic as any of those listed above. We tend to think “kids will be kids”. By now we know that is one of the worst falsehoods about growing up, particularly in this digital age, perpetrated on families in recent history. And while I sure wish it were true, we need to stop believing it. I’m no social scientist. I’m just observing kids in general. Kids are learning adult content and behavior every day, starting earlier and earlier. They are more technologically savvy than we are, just try to change your cell phone settings without a 13 year old. They are watching adult reality content on social media, television, news and movies. And we can’t ignore that since 9/11 and most recently, the ISIS behaviors and acts committed abroad and now on our US shores, that they can't help but to be aware of things to which as a teenager, I was completely oblivious.
That being said and At the risk of sounding histrionic, let’s start by looking at the worst case scenario. As a parent, we know when something’s not quite right with our kids. We notice the normal effects of problems like bullying or, depression, aggression, lower school performance, fear and isolation. The problem is that bad things can happen, tragic things, when we believe that kids will be kids and “this too shall pass”. We may miss the big question, “Is my child being bullied?” The website, bullyingstatistics.org, notes, according to the CDC threat, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. Alarmingly, about 4,400 deaths result per year, according to the CDC. So, what’s the point? A Yale University report also concludes that “bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
What is your state doing to prevent bullying of your child and what can you do? The good news is that all 50 states have enacted some type of anti-bullying legislation or policy. I am very impressed with the Jessica Logan Act in Ohio and like-minded legislation across the country. Enacted in 2011, following 17 year old, Jessica Logan’s tragic suicide, the act is quite comprehensive and it reaches into a place where as they say, “angels fear to tread”, the school itself. Historically, what happens on the school bus or online was out of reach. Now, this legislation focuses on training the people who see our children for the majority of the day…before the drop off to dance class, soccer practice, dinner, homework, and bedtime. It teaches students and school personnel what to watch for and trains them how to react. It mandates “action”! What’s more, the legislation mandates:
Schools Must Develop Age-Appropriate Education for Students
Policies Must Be In Writing and Distributed to Students and Parents Annually and Provide Notifications of Reporting Procedures and Consequences for Violations
Requires Custodial Parents Must Be Notified of and Have Access to Bullying Reports
Means for anonymous reporting
Strategies for Protecting Victims from harassment/retaliation
Statement providing possible suspensions
Not one of these policies will work to save a life and the physical and/or mental health of your child if you don’t take part in educating yourself on what bullying is how it affects your child and what you can do to stop it. Google it. My Google search pulled up 93,700, 000 references. The most prominent source, stopbullying.org, defines bullying as: “Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose”. The forms and types behaviors are almost infinite and can even result in criminal behaviors. We just don’t (or don’t want to) think of it that way.
Our children deserve our attention to not only their physical health but their emotional and psychological health. They have no idea how to handle a bully. Can you remember your childhood? How sophisticated were you? What about now? Ask yourself;
What behaviors do you model?
How do you resolve conflict?
How do you treat your peers/neighbors?
Do you know your child’s online device passwords?
Who controls your child’s access to internet technology?
How do you tell if your child is the bully or the victim?
It’s up to us, and now, our schools to take the lead on developing not only smart, competent and learned contributors to our communities, but compassionate, kind and tolerant leaders. How does your state serve you? How will you serve your child?