THERE WERE two high-profile teenage suicides in Massachusetts related to bullying in the last year, but countless other bullying incidents go unreported. One in four high school students in the state report being victimized, according to recent surveys. This is a public health crisis on par with the H1N1 virus, and deserves all of the attendant mobilization of community resources to fight it.
Instead, adults all too often regard bullying as an inevitable part of adolescence. In some cases, school administrators have simply brushed off specific complaints about bullying. Yet the advent of websites such as Facebook and YouTube has multiplied the venues where bullies can harass other children - and has made the need for a concerted response all the more imperative.
It’s encouraging, then, that anti-bullying legislation currently before the Legislature would force schools to report instances of bullying and how school officials responded to them. But such legislation is just a start.
If the student culture in a given school encourages or is silent on bullying, it will occur no matter what disciplinary actions are in place . In addition to stricter rules and more communication, then, adults should also appeal to adolescents’ better nature to help reduce bullying.
In some circumstances, young people are capable of overwhelming amounts of empathy and compassion - just look at the emotional outpouring that occurred after members of Norwood High School’s hockey team suffered serious injuries in recent games. Any successful anti-bullying strategy, then, needs to educate students early and often about the injuries bullying leaves in its wake. Even if such appeals fall on some deaf ears, having classrooms composed mostly of students who understand that bullying isn’t to be taken lightly will help snuff it out before it ignites into its more virulent, dangerous forms.
No law will encompass all that needs to be done. Schools need to be pushed by parents and students to seize the initiative on bullying, and to develop well-rounded approaches to preventing it and defusing it when it does arise.
However schools address this issue, it’s time they stopped treating bullying as simply another rite of passage, and instead treat it as what it is for all too many students: a very real threat to their well-being.