Today is the last day of October - Halloween. Today millions of people will dress up and pretend to be someone or something else - just for fun. But imagine if you woke up everyday wishing you actually were someone else, dreading the thought of facing peers who will assault you physically, emotionally, or even psychologically. Sadly that is the reality for the millions of youth who are victims of bullying.
According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of students in grades 9-12 experienced bullying. These days, it seems there is no escaping a bully as social media has provided a platform for a bully's vicious words, threats and rumors to follow its victims everywhere. Just this month, two Florida girls (ages 14 and 12) were arrested on charges of cyber bullying that led to the suicide of another 12-year-old girl.
School shootings, youth suicide, and bullying incidences are in the news more frequently than I remember as a kid, and as a new mother, these things are on my mind when I imagine what it will be like to send my daughter to school in a few years. How will I protect my child from hurtful words and actions? The reality is that I won't be always be able to. So, then, how do I ensure she grows up knowing she is loved and valued even though she might encounter peers who tell her differently? Likewise, how will I teach her to value others so that she treats everyone with respect and love? How will I foster in her a compassion for all, even bullies? I know it seems counterintuitive to encourage compassion for a tormenter, but I think bullying is often the symptom of a deeper hurt. I want to raise my daughter to be a good person and contribute positively to the community, to feel confident in herself, but not superior to others.
Today is not just Halloween; it is the last day of Bullying Prevention and Awareness Month. The campaign, started by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, began in 2006 as a one-week event to encourage everyone to become a part of the movement to prevent bullying. A few years ago, it became a month-long campaign. The reality is, bullying awareness and prevention needs to take place 365 days a year, and it needs to be the responsibility of all: parents, teachers, students and the community as a whole. What can we do to contribute to bullying prevention?
1) Recognize bullying. "Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior… that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. (Learn more on stopbullying.gov)
3) Report bullying. If you have children in Duval County Public Schools, the district has a new hotline 904-390-CALL (2255).
As I wrote this blog, a quote kept running through my mind: "Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny." If we could all do this and impart this lesson to the youth in our lives, I think we would make great progress in bullying prevention.