Bullying has, until now, been generally accepted as “part of growing up” and “a fact of life.” However, with the advent of cyberbullying, sexting, text rage, and the increase in violent content readily available on the internet, on television, in movies and in widely-accepted video games, bullying has taken on a frightening new dimension.
In recent weeks, our national news has featured an alarming number of bullying-related teen suicides. Two teens in Florida landed in jail accused in a text rage case that ended with another teen clinging to life in a hospital. Sadly, these tragedies are not limited to teens. In Houston in late March, an eight-year-old boy in an HISD elementary school jumped off a balcony in a desperate attempt to end his life after seven months of unabated bullying, despite his mother’s pleas and his teachers’ failed promises.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Our children are being exposed to advanced technology and to more negative, aggressive, provocative material at a younger age than ever before. Add to the mix our nation’s hypercompetitive academic and athletic atmosphere, and we are dealing with a cultural cocktail packed with a power we do not yet understand.
Anti-bullying websites and pediatric groups advise parents to push for anti-bullying policies at schools and to be vigilant in advocating for our children. A growing number of states have anti-bullying legislation in their pipelines; legislation that will hold schools legally accountable when they fail to handle bullying behavior on their watch. While these are useful steps in the process, they are inherently reactive and do not get at the root of this pervasive and growing problem.
And so we pose the questions: How do we get ahead of this issue? How do we fundamentally change the way we look at and deal with bullying as a society?
We believe that overtly-positive thinking, choices and actions can help turn the tide on the bullying epidemic. Modeling good behavior as parents and taking specific steps, like publicly saying no to gossip in our cars, at our tables, in our classrooms, on our playgrounds as well as on our cellphones and the internet can be a highly effective way to work toward the safe and positive society we all want for our children. This is vitally important because it is gossip that lies at the heart of today’s frightening cyberbullying phenomenon. Likewise, publicly saying yes to speaking positively to ourselves in our minds and to others in our homes, at school and in our communities can also go a long way toward achieving this extremely worthy goal.
We feel strongly that positive thinking must begin in the home for the public awareness effort we propose to be truly effective. We need to remember that the choices we make as parents — from the time our children are very young — ultimately determine what kind of teenagers and adults our children will become. While schools and community organizations are highly influential factors and a key part of our +Works plan, we firmly believe that the real power and key to society’s quest for an end to the bullying epidemic belongs to parents. To that end, let’s embrace this challenge and work together for positive change.