Every year in America, 13 million students experience bullying, be it mental, physical, or emotional. It can be done online, over the phone, or in person. Bullying often occurs because the bully's basic human needs for meaning, connectedness, recognition and autonomy go unmet.
Bullying is, unfortunately, not a foreign experience. As both an individual, and in my role as an educator, I have experienced and witnessed bullying in its multifaceted forms. Growing up as a Japanese American during WWII, I have experienced firsthand how hatred, fear and racism can affect one's livelihood.
After returning to California from internment camps, classmates targeted me with racial insults due to the tensions that continued after the war. Bullying affected my self-esteem and ability to succeed in school. Through my parents' support, I was able to empower myself and overcome my bullying experience.
The stigma of being Japanese American then reminds me of the experiences of many communities today. For example, after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Muslim Americans were targeted and once again labeled as the enemy. The Japanese-American community was quick to stand up for Muslim Americans, stressing that we should not repeat history. They urged Americans to avoid hysteria and fear to overcome our nation's commitment to freedom.
As an educator and school administrator for more than thirty years, I have seen firsthand the impact of bullying within our nation's education system. Teachers and professionals who work with students need to be equipped with knowledge and training for addressing bullying. Educators play key roles in managing the front lines of bullying, whether through coping with incidents of violence, addressing situations with students and parents or fostering an environment of tolerance in their classrooms and playgrounds. We need to provide our educators with the tools to effectively handle bullying.
This responsibility, however, is not only limited to our educators. Education and awareness is the responsibility of each of us. We need to change society's attitude towards bullying; we have to educate each other about the things that make us the unique individuals we are -- the same things that other people use as a basis for bullying. We have to create a new realm of understanding and acceptance of our differences.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bullying can result in serious outcomes. So many young people have suffered with anxiety and depression from bullying, embarrassment, and social isolation. Far too many people have even taken their own lives in response to bullying. We have to encourage bystanders to take a proactive role and stand up and speak out when they see something that might be considered harmful.
As chair of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, I refuse to be a bystander while millions of people are dealing with the effects of bullying on a daily basis. But legislation alone will not eliminate bullying; we need the joint forces of parents, teachers, students, activists, and community members to effectively change the attitude in our nation.
We need you, all of you. If you see something, say something! You have a voice and you can make it heard. Speak up, share your story, and educate your community about your diversities. There is a long road ahead of us, but if we each contribute and engage each other, we can make a world of difference in eradicating bullying.
his post is part of a series produced by The BULLY Project in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month. For more information on The BULLY Project, click here.