Writer’s Block: Gang Leader, Queen Bee, Bully. What’s in a Name?

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By Corinne Wnek

One of the hottest topics in education today is how to keep students safe in our schools and on our college campuses. This has nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks on our country. But it has everything to do with terrorists of another kind, the school bully.

In the past, mean student-to-student behavior was often seen as something kids just did to one another. Except for maybe a real physical altercation, much bullying behavior was largely unaddressed in the belief it would simply go away. “Just stay away from those kids and they’ll stop bothering you”, was the response many kids heard not all that long ago.

Now before eyes roll to dismiss bullying as a natural part of the growing up process, it might be interesting to understand just how serious a problem harassing and intimidating behavior has become in our schools. For those students on the receiving end of this, life in school is a nightmare that doesn’t end at three o’clock. What happens in school, doesn’t stay in school, thanks to cell phones, texting and the Internet.

We know that students bullied in school have lower attendance rates than other students. We also know that they are affected academically and that their self-esteem takes a big hit. Students like this often feel isolated from their peers and suffer long-term emotional damage because they rarely find out why they were targeted in the first place. There is also a higher risk for substance abuse among student ‘victims’.

In the twelve years since the Columbine tragedy, many schools have presented excellent programs to their students in an effort to raise awareness about how we treat other people. Some of these programs were done at my own high school and rarely has a student or staff member left the auditorium unaffected by a powerful visualization of what extreme and prolonged meanness can do to someone.

Educators, police, parents and psychologists know the extent of the damage done by bullies to other children. While the bullying itself may eventually stop, the emotional and psychological damage done to the victim is lifelong. No adult wants to think of themselves as a ‘victim’ because it conveys passivity, weakness and helplessness. Not surprisingly then, many people who were bullied as students in school become bullies themselves as adults. Ask any battered husband or wife.

Once again, it falls to our schools to teach more than reading, writing and honors calculus. Schools must strengthen partnerships with community agencies and with parents so that our students hear the same message that advocates kindness, respect and inclusion for all from everyone. Teachers need to be trained in the psychology of bullying and to watch out for a sudden change in behavior in a student. Administrators must send the message to everyone that all students have a right to feel safe in their learning environment and that reports of bullying will be investigated and taken very seriously.

And parents need to run a daily check on their kids, too, especially when it comes to using social networks on the computer. Come to think of it, we parents should check our own behavior, just to make sure that we, the first teachers of our kids, are also mirroring kindness, respect and inclusion for everyone.

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