While much progress has been made, I still remember the challenges my family and I faced when I was bullied. The stories I hear six years later sound much like my own.
Too many students feel like no one hears them, no one believes them and that all too often, no one helps them. When we don’t see bullying being addressed in our schools, on the ball fields or at home, we are not likely to ask for help. When we see teachers being unkind to students, we don’t see them as a safe place to go and when we are punished for standing up to a bully who retaliates against us, we choose to remain a bystander.
Privacy laws support those beliefs because schools are restricted from sharing information about how they address bullying incidents. When the bullying continues, the victim feels like nothing has been done when in fact much may have been.
There are schools who use “in loco parentis” as a way to keep parents out of meetings when their child is being questioned. Pressure to keep bullying reports down or frustration about the time involved to complete required paperwork can cause school leaders to dismiss the severity of a student’s complaint. “In loco parentis” may claim school personnel are representing the child in place of the parent, but I believe they have competing responsibilities. Parents should never take no for an answer and should request copies of policies to prove schools have the authority to restrict their involvement.
I remember a teacher telling me that she didn’t report bullying incidents for fear of losing her job. Schools shouldn’t see bullying statistics as a sign their school is unsafe. This type of thinking misses the opportunity to celebrate students who speak up and stand up and it puts students welfare in danger.
It is likely that schools don’t intend for bullied students to feel this way. The lesson is adults alone can’t decide for themselves how to best help bullied kids. When a student goes to an adult for help, we just want to be helped. We don’t want to have to meet a policy standard and we want to feel like we are a part of the process.
More than anything, I remember the fear I felt when I was bullied. As a third grader, it was my first introduction to violence and I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to tell anyone for fear that it would get worse.
That fear often is intensified when the bullying happens outside of schools and on screens that parents never see. Even the most committed mom or dad can find it difficult to navigate their child’s phone and they don’t know how to access the apps where the hateful messages live. Some kids tell a friend but insist on confidentiality while most suffer in silence.
My greatest concern is for those kids who suffer in silence. I know the ramifications of doing so. At 8, I told no one and my body paid the price. I suffered from stomach spams and panic attacks before my mother discovered the bullying. I was diagnosed as clinically depressed and was prescribed anti-depressants. Strangers and friends come to me with stories of self-harm, panic attacks and thoughts of suicide. So many of our schools don’t have the resources to address their mental health issues.
I’ve seen the posts, the pictures, and the videos of kids who seek help by posting their desperation on their social channels. I’ve seen a picture of a black screen with just two words, “I’m done.” I’ve seen videos of hysterical young people crying because of the hate they face every day. Both of these caused me to tell my mom and she called 911. Our last call for emergency help came from a picture of a boy with a gun to his head. His finger was on the trigger. Across his picture he posted, “it’s time to go.” I will always remember the panic we felt as we waited to hear that he was ok.
I believe fear is at the heart of bullying. We use it against one another and we use it to protect ourselves. We lash out at those around us when we really are just hoping someone will see our pain and help us. As I look at the world right now, I see so much noise. For me and my generation to grow into good citizens, we must see the adults leading the way with kindness and acceptance. We need the adults around us willing to fight for us and and committed to protects us.
I have to believe that somewhere in the middle of all of that noise there is and hope and there is love but I wonder if adults aren’t afraid as well.