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Julie Clark




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Is bullying to blame?

Another school shooting is in the news. Fourteen-year-old Asa Coon shot two students and two teachers before committing suicide on October 10, 2007. The shooting took place in Cleveland, Ohio, at a specialty high school, Success Tech Academy.
Immediately, speculation began: Was he bullied? Did he play video games? Was he on medication for ADD/ADHD or depression?
The NEA has stated that 160,000 students miss school every day due to a fear of being bullied. That's a lot of bullied kids. Yet, school shootings are still fairly rare occurrences. If being bullied was "the cause," there would be a whole lot more shootings going on.
Bullying is still a serious issue, one that schools need to get serious about. Ignoring students who are bullied, ignoring those who have mental health issues are part of the problem. Schools cannot fix everyone. They shouldn't have to. However, it is now time for schools to step up to the plate and set some firm rules. No more tinkering around. I'm all for as little government as possible in our lives, but if it takes a federal law or something to get schools into compliance, so be it.
For starters, respect must be expected in every school. Athletes and others who tend to be favored when they bully others must now get the clear message that if you bully someone, you lose your position on the team. How many schools do you think will let the captain of the team go? If the team is a winning one, how many schools do you think will discipline the team members with more than a slap on the wrist? Until the favored ones are punished like everyone else, the bullying will continue. Any student in a position of leadership who bullies others should lose their position. Not for a day or a week. The entire school year. If it is late in the academic year, they lose out for the next year as well. Little 'time outs' here and there do not teach a lesson. Inconsistent discipline breeds contempt and increases the chance of violence.
Zero tolerance often equals zero common sense. Children who defend themselves are often punished for fighting. If an adult on the street was attacked and defended himself, would he think it fair if he was charged as well? Children are people, too. Allowing a child to defend himself from unprovoked attacks will likely lessen bullying. If you take away a person's right to self-defense, you leave him vulnerable to attack. Bullies know this. Chronic bullies don't care about punishment. If they did, they wouldn't be bullying others. Often times, a student who is attacked will not fight back because he doesn't want to get into trouble. Schools need to recognize this.
Schools also need to teach children what bullying is, and what they want and expect their students to do about it. Students cannot do the right thing if it is not spelled out for them. Students often report that when they try to tell a teacher what has happened to themselves or another child that they are told to "stop tattling." That is not tattling; it is reporting that someone is being or has been hurt. Brushing the student aside makes him/her feel as if no one cares, so why should they tell?
Consequences need to be strong enough to impel a student to behave. An in-or out of school detention does little to deter bullying and other behaviors. If it worked, we would have little bullying in our schools. Many experts agree that bullying is an epidemic. Time to stop using the same non-effective methods and go back to expecting respect in our schools. You do not bullying those to whom you show respect. You don't have to like the person, you do not have to agree with their political affiliation, their belief or non-belief in God, or their sexual orientation. But you do have to respect them as human beings.
In the case of mental illness, and those who show "warning signs," school is no place for them. Putting other students at risk by having violent-prone students attending the same school violates those students' rights to an education in a safe environment. As mentioned above, schools cannot fix problem students. Teachers have their hands full managing disruptive children while having to teach the ones who are there for an education.
Problem children have parents or guardians. Once we make a decision to bring a child into this world, it is our responsibility to the child and to society to train up our children properly. If there is a problem with the child physically, we take them to doctors. If there is a problem with our child emotionally, we should do the same. We should not leave it to our teachers to deal with. It short changes everyone. And puts other students and staff at risk.
Parents are the backbone of our communities, whether we realize it or not. We see to it that there are schools for the children to attend, we see to it that there are youth programs and parks and soccer fields. But we seem to slack off when our kids become teens. They needs us as much, if not more, as teens as when they were toddlers. There is little of value for teens in many places. Parents need to step up to the plate and find or create something of value for our teens to do. Don't wait for someone else to do it. You ARE someone else. Provide a safe place for a few teens at your home to play basketball, share a hobby or interest, learn to make pizzas. Ask your local Y or other program to have something special for teens. Those too young for jobs but too old for most youth programs find themselves bored. A bored teen may hang with the crowd just for something to do, or commit illegal acts "just for kicks."
Know where your kids are, and who they are with. If they are hanging with the wrong crowd, you need to find alternatives. If they 'sneak' and go around with those they shouldn't, you need to impose consequences on them that gets their attention. Many think that they can't make their teens behave. But you can make them wish they had behaved! Don't allow them access to a car, if they drive. If you know that their allowance is going for drugs or alcohol, stop the allowance. Help them to find a job doing something...cutting grass, pet sitting, washing cars. Anything productive to keep them busy and their minds on something other than getting into trouble.

If problems with your child/teen become severe, seek out resources in your area for help. You would do the same if your child had a broken leg. When something is wrong, we seek to have it treated. Letting it go and hoping it gets better seldom works well.
Our kids, and society, are depending on the parents and other adults in their lives to act like adults. Allowing them to get away with bullying and other misbehaviors does no one any good, and, as we have seen, can cause a lot of harm.

Copyright Julie P. Clark 2007 All rights reserved.

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A report by the U.S. Secret Service states that school shooters usually told someone before they carried out their rampage. Encourage students to tell an adult as soon as they hear something of this nature. Better safe than sorry!