Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stepping Up & Stopping Trends

As the Safe Schools Coordinator for PFLAG, I hear from parents all across the country about the horrific bullying that so many young people endure. Taunting in school has become a disturbing trend in small schools and large, and its consequences were vividly illustrated in the recent, tragic shooting of Lawrence King in Oxnard, California. And, just like all other lessons we teach our children, there’s new information that stepping up and stopping bad behavior today can have long-term consequences throughout a young person’s life.

Blogger Diane Dimond writes at HuffingtonPost.com that a new study from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids shows an undeniable link between bullying today and criminal behavior tomorrow.

“[N]early 60 percent of boys whom researchers classified as bullies in grades 6-9 were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24,” Dimond writes. “And get this, 40 percent of those same boys grew up to have three or more criminal convictions.”

The key to stopping the harassment and bullying, Dimond notes, lies with adults. Responding – to both the kids and their parents – can make all the difference in the world. Because young people rarely exhibit bullying behavior in front of their own parents, it’s up to others in the community to be pro-active in driving the message home.

“That means other adults have to step up at schools, camps, sporting events and youth activity centers,” Dimond writes. “We need to tell parents when their children are being bullies. And we should teach all kids to refuse to join in the taunting. It is abuse, pure and simple. Children can be scarred for life by a bully. And, once robbed of their self esteem they can suffer from mental and physical problems, drop out of school and even commit suicide.”

Of course, we know that gay, transgender, questioning and gender-variant young people are at an especially high risk of the worst consequences from bullying. The truth is that we need ot teach students, teachers and school personnel about empathy, and about the nature and specifics of the bullying that LGBT students face. And that is why we tell our stories, and share our experiences, with schools. We need to peel away the hostility and silence that surrounds our children.

It’s all about learning from example, and taking stands to stop trends.

As Dimond’s HuffingtonPost column reminds us, individuals from every walk of life can – and must – take steps to stop the cycle of bullying. The consequences we, and our kids, face by leaving bullying unchecked are clear and undeniable for everyone involved.

To read Dimond’s full write-up, click here. And for more information on what you can do to help with PFLAG’s safe schools work, email me at sgreenfield@pflag.org.

- Suzanne Greenfield

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