We need to stop school bullying.
More than 3 million students suffer from bullying each year. And a whopping 160,000 students a day miss school because of the fear of bullying, according to the American School Health Association.
Bullying is associated with an increased risk of criminal activity on the part of aggressor and an increased risk of suicide by the victim.
Cyberbullying appears to have intensified the bullying by allowing myriad new ways to humiliate people. And with the spread of the technology, the victimization is happening at an ever-younger age.
Recall the Sept. 9 suicide of Rebecca Sedwick, the 12-year-old Florida girl who was mercilessly tormented online and by text message.
Recall the May 23 suicide of 12-year-old Gabrielle Molina of New York, who left a note behind pleading she was sick of the cyberbullying and her schoolmates calling her "a slut."
Recall the suicide of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old gay Texan who shot himself to death in 2010 after a year of taunts and abuse from schoolmates over his sexuality. Though he left no note, his parents believe the suicide was in response to bullying so severe "he just had enough."
Bullying isn't new. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney reluctantly owned up to leading a gang of bullies during his school days in 1965 to attack a "kid with long hair" named John Lauber and forcibly cutting his locks. Lauber had offended Romney and his cohorts by looking different and seeming gay. On the campaign trail, Romney belatedly apologized, but like many bullies, he minimized the seriousness of his actions. "I participated in a lot of high jinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far," he said.
But bullying is not a prank.
Fortunately, there is increased awareness of the problem of bullying. This has led to anti-bullying campaigns in schools.
The American School Health Association recommends a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and advises schools to establish and communicate a strict code of conduct, as well as offering "instruction in social and emotional learning skills."
But the prevention of bullying is too big a task to drop in the lap of our schools alone.
Parents need to do their part, too. They not only need to tell their children that bullying is not allowed, they also need to instill empathy in their kids.
Only then can we hope to prevent more tragedies that arise from bullying.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and journalist living in Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Darryl Lorenzo Wellington.
Photo: Flickr user Nathan Jones, creative commons licensed.