Friday, October 2, 2009

Taking Fear Out of the Equation

When I sent my sons to school, I knew they would have to worry about homework and standardized tests, as well as the social pressure to be popular, athletic, and cool. What I didn’t know, and what too few parents realize even today, is that many kids go to school worrying about much more than their grades or their place on the baseball team. Far too many of our children experience school as a frightening place filled with violence and fear.

  • Up to 80 percent of adolescents report being bullied during their school years.
  • Around 160,000 school children stay home from school each day out of fear, often without telling their parents why.
  • Children targeted by bullies experience higher than normal levels of insecurity, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and physical and mental symptoms.
  • Adults who were bullies as children have higher rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other violent crimes.
  • The percentage of students who report being bullied rose 50 percent from 1983 to 2003.
  • More than 86 percent of students who identify as LGBT report being verbally harassed, 44 percent have been physically harassed, and 22 percent report being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
Right now, too few adults understand the issues around school safety, and those who do recognize that there is a problem don’t know what to do about it. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that we expand opportunities to educate parents, teachers, and administrators about school violence.

Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools Kevin Jennings has a tremendous record of dedication to our children and our schools. He has devoted his career to an issue that requires attention from all of us: making schools safe places where our children can focus on learning.

By diverting our focus from the verbal and physical bullying and harassment that take place in schools every day to spend time discussing “should have’s” from years ago, we risk losing sight of the important work being done now to address and prevent school violence.

Our children deserve to go to school without fear. They also deserve parents, families, and teachers who will advocate on their behalf. For their sake, we can’t afford to divert more time from this profound issue. We should empower the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools to do the work that will help protect our children and create safer schools and communities. Otherwise, our children continue to lose out.

John R. Cepek
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

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