School has been in session for over a month and hopefully, all the wrinkles have been ironed out by now. I read recently that anxiety tops the list of things students worry about in going back to school, such as having a new teacher, homework, who to sit with at lunch, or transitioning to a new school.
Along with all of the above, there is the anxiety that comes from being bullied. October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
Children are bullied for many reasons: being short, wearing glasses, being the class “nerd,” being a new student, stuttering, physical disabilities, or looking or acting differently from others. This can start in grade school and continue through high school. Many children suffer silently and are too afraid to report it.
In an article by Caitlin O’Kane for CBS News, there was a boy named Caleb who was beginning his freshman year of high school. After the first day, he texted his older sister, Leal, who was in college, and said he had gotten lost three times and had no one to sit with at lunch. He was apparently worried it would all go downhill from there. Leal reposted on Twitter and the post went viral to thousands of people. A senior at Caleb’s high school, Timothy, saw the post, responded, and said he would sit with her brother. Several other upperclassmen did the same. Consequently, they have all became friends. Timothy’s kindness opened a door to a better outcome.
Amanda Armstrong, a teacher and researcher, wrote an article entitled “Building a Supportive Classroom Community in Early Childhood.” She has studied bullying and thinks that it progresses as children age. Her point is to make the classroom a safe environment starting at the earliest age possible to set the example for ensuing years. That means everyone is involved including children, families, and teachers. As teachers listen to their students and what they are talking about, they can select books or other types of media dealing with those subjects and discuss them with the children. It is important to become acquainted with the children’s families through classroom activities and asking for volunteers at school so that the teacher can understand the culture of each family. The follow up to that is teachers initiating classroom discussion so that children can express how to interact with the other children and how to sort out conflicts. Parents can do the same at home by being friendly with other families and being part of the school community. It is important that school is a safe place as well as at home.
High school brings its own bullies with those who laugh because you don’t wear the “right” clothes, you aren’t “cool,” you have a different background, and so on. Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, and all the other media sources only make it easier to cyberbully someone anonymously or through groups. It has been shown that children can be bullied to the point of suicide by making them feel anxious and depressed. A teen may not want parents to know what is going on and therefore won’t tell them. The teen feels like he or she has no one to turn to. Life can feel very lonely when you are in that situation. Encouraging someone to end his or her life is a situation that is completely out of control. Yet, we have read or heard of such cases in the news. It needs to stop.
Ed Sheeran is a 28-year old singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer, and understands being bullied. He stuttered for years and was bullied about it as well as the oversized glasses he wore as the result of a lazy eye. Sheeran stopped answering questions in class and felt insecure. He tried speech therapy and worried he would stutter for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he enjoyed singing in his church choir and playing his guitar. One day his father brought home a recording by Eminem and Sheeran learned every word by the time he was 10. His stutter went away. Sheeran started writing his own music and at the age of 14 went to London and played in whatever venues he could find. He posted YouTube videos and soon big names were noticing his music including another rapper, Example, who asked him to tour with him. Later Sheeran moved to Los Angeles with no place to stay and no contract with a music company. But he believed in himself and as he left the image in the background of that little boy who was bullied, he went on to become famous and an inspiration to many young people.
At www.activebeat.com, there is a list of 10 things to look for if you think your child is being bullied: unexplained injuries, changes in appetite, frequent sick days, missing personal items, suffering grades, tendency to self-harm, isolation, avoidance, loss of sleep, and exclusion from social activities. Parents, teachers, other family members, and friends need to be aware of these things so that they can intervene and find solutions.
The Vermont Crisis Text Line is free of charge for any individual who needs it: text VT to 741741. You will be able to talk to a counselor. The counselors are there to help with bullying, depression, suicide, and many other issues. You can also read more at http://vtcrisistextline.org.
Life is a journey. It is NOT okay to be bullied.