In light of Karen Klein, the bus monitor from Greece, N.Y. whose victimization at the hand of child bullies has taken the news and social media by storm, I have been thinking a lot about bullies lately. I imagine many of us have been. As we grow up and become adults, many of us do something that, as children, we swore we never would: We forget what it's like to be kids. And we sometimes fail to recognize that times are different than when we were growing up. Just like we used to roll our eyes at our parents and emphatically whine, "But mom, you don't get it!" kids now are faced with different challenges then we were.
Bullying was bad enough "back in the day," with swirlies and getting shoved into lockers, wedgies, name-calling and snickering. Now add to all of that Facebook, Twitter, text messages, YouTube, blogs, cell phone pictures and the massive ability to forward them. Bullying has become a whole new entity, and while adults are certainly not immune to this, bullying is taking our youth by storm. It no longer ends when the school bell rings, it's with them 24 hours a day.
We read every day about children who are subjected to this kind of torture. Yes, torture. As a former "rat girl" and "pirate" (they have sunken chests), I can attest to that being an accurate description. I have worked firsthand with many of these children and teens and am always inspired, but not surprised, to hear that many of them talk about becoming social workers or psychologists when they "grow up." They want to help children like themselves. The sad truth is that many of them never get to make those dreams come true. So many of these children turn to cutting or other forms of self-mutilation, drugs or alcohol and some go as far as to take their own lives as a result of this epidemic.
While we count on our schools to protect our children during the day, many of them fall short. A number of lawsuits have been filed recently against school districts who failed to appropriately respond to bullying incidents after having been made aware of them. Some schools have gone as far as to blame the parents for their children's cutting, poor attendance and other results of the bullying, alleging that children are being neglected at home rather than by their educators. And all too often, when the victim tries to defend themselves, they are the ones who are penalized, while their bullies go free.
As a result, there are children who literally have to face their fears, every single day. Despite their knowledge that they will be picked on, put down, degraded and humiliated, they find the strength to go to school, attempt to get an education and to make better lives for themselves and for future generations. They do something incredible that many of us would not have the courage to do: They wake up every day, and voluntarily walk in to a war zone -- no weapons, no line of defense. I think it's important that we all take the time to recognize the incredible strength of these children and to help them work towards someday achieving the reality of a bullying-free education for our children. I realize that may sound a bit Mary Poppins-ish but maybe that's what we need; maybe we all need a little magic and inspiration.
You can make a difference by supporting the following organizations:
- The Trevor Project a 24-hour, national crisis and suicide prevention line for gay and questioning teens.
- The National Center for Bullying Prevention working to promote awareness and teach effective ways to respond to bullying.
- Stand for the Silent Empowering students to stand up to bullying and to make a difference. Started by parents whose son was suspended after standing up to his bully, who had been bullying him for two years
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Not-for-profit organization dedicated towards gaining an understanding of and prevention of suicide. Also provides counseling for those suffering from mental illness as well as those grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. Participate in their Out of the Darkness Walks.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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