12.17.2011

Opinion--STOP IT! – The Need for Mandatory Zero Tolerance on Bullying

In My Room from the Bully Series
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            As a participant in the study of criminology, I have often found myself looking at our world through clearer eyes as to some of the afflictions in our society.  One of our greatest afflictions is not new, in fact it has been around a lot longer than most know and is apparently becoming more frequent.  What I am referring to is bullying, plain and simple. Even television programs from yesterday’s age such as “The Little Rascals” had a bully as a character.  As a parent of a child who is experiencing it and being in the criminology field, I see firsthand the effects of what the long term damage from the harassment can do.  This article will contain facts on bullying, a local elementary level schools pledge to help combat it and a parents touch of what must be done by the schools to control both the parent of the bully and the bully themselves. At the end of this article, a question for all to ponder, so brace yourselves, this author is about to hand deliver a tool to help STOP THE BULLYING!
            Up until this year, my child’s education experience has been fairly common with new explorations and discoveries, making new friends and in general doing well.  As with most citizens a downturn in our economy caused our family to have to move to something more affordable, exactly 1 (one) full block from where we originally lived.  This maneuver placed our child into a new district and thus a new school.  The new school’s academic program is exemplary and students whom pass through it have had better opportunities in gaining advantages in higher learning.  This was just as exciting to my child as it was her parents and the talk of what could be a great chance filled the air.  84 instructional days later, my outlook has changed dramatically, everything from threats of physical violence, filing potential criminal charges, to name calling and groups of kids swarming a bright child at a rate of at least 3 a week.  What changed? 
            My once scholastically bright child has experienced a drop in grades, a new found quietness within her own home (where once before had plenty to ask and talk about) and having to understand that it is ok to defend oneself in the face of adversity so long as the adversity is not caused by our child, in other words, if you have to fight then do so.  The school she attends has a low tolerance policy on bullying, so long as the incidents are being reported.  This path of course is strongly encouraged and has been applied by our child.  The net result, the bullies used this as a new avenue of teasing so now due to reputation of reporting bad behavior, no one in general wants to interact with her for fear of reprisal and new students coming in are warned by peers to stay away.  So before our child is the most frustrating challenge of all, dealing with the everyday teasing, trying to establish confidence in the few current friends and new friends as well so the social interaction does not suffer, managing class work while having utensils magically disappear and having to look over the shoulder to insure no more shoves into the mud from out of nowhere.  If your child is experiencing these types of activities, take charge of that situation and let your schools know, enough is enough, time to take back the school and STOP THE BULLYING!
            Now that our readers have seen firsthand from this author some of what is being experienced, lets journey into the combat zone where the parents are and see what the schools might have in mind in order to effectively manage the bullying.  We will start with the definition of (freedictionary.com), Bully:  A person, who hurts, intimidates or persecutes weaker people.  The only flaw I can see in this definition is the word, weaker.  To imply that one is weaker than the other would have to take into account the total person and even if weaker in some respects, that does not necessarily mean weaker person.  The pressures of being bullied can overwhelm and erode self confidence and eventually in the long term could make it harder to deal with and make them appear weaker.
            On the elementary education level, in a local school, the students have the following pledge: “I will not bully other students; I will help others who are being bullied by speaking out and by getting adult help.  My School is a place to learn, to be safe and happy.  I promise to respect other students, my school and myself.”  This pledge is backed up by posters and signs scattered throughout the school and by the zero tolerance of that type of behavior by the staff.  This environment is where my youngest child attends and it should be noted that because of this stance, the rate of incident is near 0.  It should also be noted that the older child also attended that same school and as mentioned in the earlier part of the article, up until the new venture a common and safe environment did exist.
I have posed the question to our school system, “Why does the zero tolerance policy change from school to school?”  The most common answer, it is harder to keep tabs as the school has a larger populous and standard staffing.  The second most common answer is lack of involvement. High schools all across the country in the last 25 years have seen staff add in security patrols and in some cases, police guards in the schools.  This in my opinion isn’t deterring, it is only adding the presumption that it will occur and that there is a need for an ARMED person to be a part of our child’s educational environment. Are there any other parents in our world who see a problem with this approach? GET INVOLVED!
            An online article at www.stopbullying.gov indicates some signs that things might not be so peachy keen in your child’s environment.  Items such as: coming home with damaged clothing or items, coming home with missing items or materials, unexplained injuries, coming home feeling sick or having a headache from their stressful day, eating right after school as they did not eat lunch at school, has trouble sleeping or has bad dreams, they might be feeling as though they are not good enough to compete or learn the material, they may feel inferior to others, is afraid or reluctant to go to after school activities or avoids known hangouts, appears sad or is moody and heaven forbid you as a parent hear, “I just want to kill myself” or have another parent mention hearing “they talk about running away from home.”  These are some signs that your child is feeling the ill effects of being bullied.  How frustrating this must be to the other parents along with me who watch the slow transformation of their child go from vibrant to silent.
            Bullies need to know that we the combatants of their ill gotten ways now have a small checklist of things to look for to help identify them, so we can better prepare our children. These few signs of a person who may be a bully are: comes home with new things that were “given” to them that have value, such as extra money or clothing, gets into physical altercations with others inside and outside the school, combative toward their own parents punishments for the bad behavior and may try to pit one parent against the other, goes to principal’s office frequently or has teacher letters sent home frequently indicating their lack of self control or tendency to cause trouble, quick to blame others for their own trouble(the “not me” syndrome), refuses to accept responsibility for their own actions or bad behaviors (what I like to call the “I don’t know why” syndrome), has friends who bully others and may see this as acceptable behavior, feels the need to win at EVERYTHING they do.  This list is not all inclusive but is a general guide to what might become a problem person later on.  Statistically, some of these same bullies are more likely to have criminal tendencies or drug and alcohol problems later on, where as the victims are more likely to be withdrawn and have psychological problems or relationship problems later in life.  Neither case scenario is healthy for the bully and their victim, nor does this include the stress and concern on the parent trying to help and cope with the new child in front of them.
            Parents of these bullies must also know that parents of the children affected in some cases can go to court or use legal avenues to help the schools make the child conform.  Schools that receive federal funding, this includes colleges and universities, are required by federal law to address any violations of civil rights in discrimination on a few personal characteristics.  The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights enforces the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VI) which prohibits any type of discrimination of race, color or national origin.  They are also governed by Title IX which prohibits discrimination based on gender or sex.  School districts may be in violation of these statutes and the Department of Education’s implementing regulations, when peer harassment based on all the aforementioned, including anyone with disabilities when it becomes sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and is either encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed or ignored by school employees.  Broken into its simplest form, if the school ignores the bullying or fails to address it properly, especially if they receive federal money, they have violated a federal law. 
            According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (aacap.org) nearly half of all students experience bullying at some point in their lives and nearly 10% of all students are bullied on a regular, daily basis.  10 percent in perspective to the school my child attends is 85 students, all potentially experiencing verbal, physical or emotional abuse on a daily basis.  If those same 85 students have 2 parents each, 170 parents may not know exactly why their child may be struggling and may think it is because the class is harder or the work more tedious.  Those parents will likely share common themes in their children, such as:  Depression, anxiety, struggling grades, moodiness, lashing out as well as other symptoms and may not know their child is being bullied.  The bully themselves might be in a home where physical and mental abuse is rampant and take to the dominance of others as an acceptable part of life. Do you know any spouses who are suffering abuse and do they have children?  GET INVOLVED!  School systems and counselors have many tools at their disposal to assist the developing child in their attempts to settle things down, including advanced therapy for the victim to cope with the stress and pressure but ultimately it is the parents responsibility to insure that schools and systems conform to what is right for our kids.
            If we were to experience 14% of our daily lives as something negative, we would certainly move to stop or control that negative influence.  According to statistics (howtostopbullying.com) 14% of our children are experiencing an escalation of this type of abuse.  Each day 160,000 kids are missing school as a result of the side effects of bullying, are they truly sick or are the effects of bullying causing the illness?  77% of all students sampled have experienced being bullied by their peers, the very people they have to see 5 days a week.
Every 7 minutes a child is being bullied on school grounds, yet some schools report lower statistics in their own schools, is the fear of losing money causing them to not take a stand?  Less than 4% of adults get involved to try and stop it. 4 out of every 100 will say something, why doesn’t the other 96?  Only 11% of peers try to stop or intervene, is the other 89% afraid of becoming a victim?  85% in general do nothing at all.
What if 85% of our soldiers did not fight back in any war?  What if 85% of American’s didn’t care about September 11, 2001?  What if 85% of the world citizens didn’t offer to help the tragedy in Japan after a catastrophic earthquake?  What if 85% of the “99%” did nothing to try to influence positive change in our economic differences? 
We as citizens of the world would never allow these things on those levels, why do we allow it in our child’s life.  Statistics like these drive me crazy! I grew up here in the USA and many times over can remember adults breaking up fights and doing the correct thing to curtail the problems and 25 years later, lack of involvement is a reason for the continued bullying problem.  Why have we decided to turn a blinder eye to this growing problem?
            So far, we have covered the firsthand account of bullying, signs that a child is being bullied or is the bully, federal laws that apply to a school that does not adequately control the bullying and the effects of bullying.  I mentioned in the earlier part of this article that I would give a tool to all parents to help stop this unnecessary and repetitive fact in our children’s lives.  The signs of this tool are posted all over this article, signals, such as STOP THE BULLYING and GET INVOLVED are clear, but not enough.  If a zero tolerance policy exists in a few schools, but not all schools the obvious solution is uniformity.  Here is a pledge I would like to see circulated throughout the world:
            We the parents of the children of these United States and Abroad, do solemnly swear that anytime a child brings to our attention any form of bullying or harassment, we will get involved immediately and ask the schools to provide reasonable amounts of safety and security in that school.  We will demand that a ZERO TOLERANCE policy be adapted by both State and Federal Governments so that any bully or parents of a bully will know that this type of behavior is unacceptable at any age or year of study within the schools our children strive to learn from.  We the parents of those children whose lives have been changed wish to convey to our own communities that they should not be silent or reserved when they see bullying occur and doing nothing is just as wrong as participating.  We will diligently follow up and insure that policies and / or laws will be applied properly and hold each school system accountable for its own actions and disciplines.  We will only accept a need for armed persons in our schools when the need arises from the students to feel safe, and if armament is needed then we fully expect the schools and communities to adapt a ZERO TOLERANCE stance.  Your tool is your voice, the power of people and the pursuit of what is right by all citizens.  Call your school boards, ask your child’s teachers, talk to their friends, do whatever is necessary but do not be silent.  Let the bullies and systems know our children deserve better, safer learning environments!
            The question:  Is it harder to get involved early and work as a community to deter or eliminate most forms of harassment, or is it harder to attend another funeral from the actions of someone who suddenly snaps at school and kills innocent kids because they did nothing to help them while the bullying was occurring (think Virginia Tech).  How many cyber bullying deaths by suicide are we as a public willing to allow before we step in? Remember the faces of the cyber bullying victims; think 
English: this is my own version of what bullyi...
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about what they asked for before deciding to end their young precious lives.  Do not ever think your child is immune to the effects of abusive language or has never seen or been a part of a bully’s reach, on or off school grounds it still happens.  Is your child the child that will stand and laugh at another’s misfortune, are they the ones who tell their friends about “look at what was posted about …….” or are they the student that comes forward and says, yes I saw what happened and I am here to lend a hand? This author challenges all citizens to get involved in supporting anti-bullying laws.  In some states depending on the harassment, legal proceedings are an option so brush up on your local laws.  The time has come for our children to be safe.  It is time for parents and communities to GET INVOLVED and STOP THE BULLYING!

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