Bullying among teenagers is pervasive, according to a new study which shows more than 50 percent of American teens have hit their peers in anger at one time or another.
Bullying has become the focus of national attention ever since the story broke of a gay Rutgers student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a roommate web streamed him in the arms of his male lover. Since news of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, other stories about teen suicides have come to light. A heretofore largely ignored problem is now seeing the light of day.
There are efforts now underway, and not just in the United States, to combat this problem. But it hasn’t always been the case.
I myself was the victim of the neighborhood bully when I was in elementary school. Michael Schwartz, who was older and much bigger than the rest of us, used to beat younger students up as they walked past his house on the way to Detroit’s Bow Elementary School.
Most of the kids (one could argue the smart ones) just took a detour around his block, opting to walk along Mansfield or Murray Hill to avoid passing Schwartz’s house on St. Marys. But I’ve always been stubborn and would deliberately walk – alone – past his house every day. I didn’t want a beat down – but I didn’t want to back down from his intimidation either.
Later I got him back while playing defense against him in hockey. I can tell you from personal experience that the old adage that the bigger they are the harder they fall is true.
I handled Michael Schwartz instinctively, without benefit of adult advise. The terror he caused remained, until my adult days, a secret shared by only him and me.
Today, children are encouraged to report when they are bullied. But those in charge don’t always take action.
When my daughter was in high school she was cyber bullied on Facebook. Our complaints to school officials fell on deaf ears. They argued that Facebook is an activity that occurs outside of school – not in their purview, and refused to take action.
A call to the police department’s juvenile division got better results. The detective assigned to the case said she investigated at least two new complaints of cyber bullying on Facebook a day. In fact, she said, the bulk of her caseload involved Facebook bullying complaints – the perpetrators and the victims all in their teens.
It seems that recognizing the problem – and doing something about it – sometimes are two different things.
Fortunately, there is a new enlightenment – perhaps the result of Tyler Clementi’s death. In New Jersey, where he died, there is a proposal in the state Assembly to toughen anti-bullying laws. One is proposed in Michigan as well. In all, 45 states have enacting anti-bullying laws.
All of these efforts reflect encouraging moves toward combating the problem. But the fact that most teens acknowledge bullying another at one time or another is frightening.
It’s good and proper that schools are including anti-bullying and tolerance programs. But this all starts at home – at the dinner table for those families that still gather for the evening meal.
Parents need to educate their children about the potential consequences of bullying. They also need to instruct their children to report bullying – whether they are the victims or witnesses. When this happens, parents need to follow through to make sure that authorities – whether school or police officials – take proper action.
Most importantly, we adults need to set an example for our children. Jokes and comments about other’s religious beliefs, sexuality, race, color or creed should be set aside. And when we hear others make such utterances, we should express our disdain.
Only then will our children get it. And, perhaps, the next survey will show that a large majority of teenagers not only have never bullied another – but have stepped up to prevent someone from being bashed.