IT’s funny sometimes how recent events seem to have happened long ago. In June, as the previous school year was ending across the United States, attention was drawn to an ugly incident in Rochester, N.Y., in which a group of middle school students unmercifully bullied an elderly bus monitor.
The disgusting behavior was captured on video by a student who thought it would be cool to post the images on his Facebook page. Within hours, the video went viral on the Internet, and millions of viewers from around the world eventually saw the reprehensible behavior for themselves. The mainstream media reported the incident, which led to the one-year suspension of the students involved. The victim reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from sympathetic, supportive people she didn’t even know.
The entire episode became the quintessential poster story for the epidemic of bullying. Hundreds of teens posted their reactions of outrage online, proof that perhaps for the first time on a mass scale the seemingly taboo subject of bullying finally was getting the attention and understanding it deserves.
If you missed this event and are the least bit Internet savvy, you can view video of 68-yearold bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied. Go to youtube.com and search for ‘kids bully bus monitor.’ You will be horrified at the behavior of several teenage punks who physically touched, cursed and harassed the woman who had worked for the school district for years simply to help ensure the safety of children who ride the bus.
So here we are. It’s August, and school starts back in Gulf Breeze and Santa Rosa County in the next few days. Our children will return to school in search of an education, and some – probably more than we realize – will be exposed to the bullying behavior of a few fellow students who have little regard for other people’s feelings.
There will be posters on the doors and walls informing students how to report and deal with bullying. Teachers and administrators will do their best to remind students how distasteful it is to bully another person, but for some kids this will fall on deaf ears.
Parents and guardians, I ask you – no, I implore you – to sit down with your children in a quiet environment and frankly talk about bullying. Many kids are too scared to admit a problem, and it’s important that our children know that there are ways to combat the problem without repeatedly being abused, chastised or ostracized.
Students, particularly those of you in leadership positions, I urge you to stand up and demonstrate empathy to fellow students who might be victims of bullying. Show your peers who might not have the fanciest designer clothes or the latest hairstyle that they, too, belong and are important. Be a friend; don’t be a hater.
There is a movie titled ‘Bully’ that you can find online. It’s a frank, honest, noholds barred look at bullying and the ramifications including, in the worst of cases, suicide among students unable or unwilling to cope with abuse. I warn you that the movie is graphic and contains profanity and uncomfortable situations. Don’t watch it if that would offend you. (But trust me, a sizable percentage of middleand high-school students hear and experience similar behavior on a regular basis. It’s nothing they haven’t been exposed to in one form or another.)
Church leaders, I ask that the subject of bullying be discussed openly with your congregations and in your youth Sunday school classes. Civic clubs and social organizations should join the conversation. Teachers, require your students to read this column and have them write short essays on their opinions of bullying. Get them talking openly about it. In short, let’s all be proactive and do everything possible to make the 2012-2013 school year devoid of bullying. If our children learn nothing else, it will be a successful year.