All of us can remember the student who was bullied in school. We probably can just as easily remember the kid who was doing the bullying.
The reason many of us have these recollections of everything from cruel name-calling, physical harm and Internet abuse is because bullying is so prevalent. It turns out one in seven children from kindergarten through 12th grade across the United States is bullied or a bully.
Although some schools are cracking down on the serious problem, too many times it is still considered a rite of childhood, a natural occurrence in the hallways and cafeterias of our elementary, middle and high schools.
This is wrong.
The attitude "boys will be boys and girls will be girls" is dangerous when applied to bullying, and as a community we need to make certain that is not the impression we extend to our children.
We don't need to look far to see the impact of bullying.
Brandon Bitner of Snyder County was tormented as a 14-year-old freshman at Midd-West High School. In 2010, he stepped onto a highway, in front of a tractor-trailer rig, leaving a suicide note that said he had endured years of feeling powerless as students called him "faggot" and "sissy."
The fact that children are driven to that extreme is heartbreaking. It has grabbed the attention of film makers who created a movie now showing at Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg and Allen Theatre in Annville called "Bully." It depicts the lives of five students who have been bullied and their families. Some stories focus on families who say their children took their own lives because they didn't want to be a target any longer. In one painful scene captured by the moviemakers, a boy who is the target of frequent bullying is beaten on a school bus.
In addition, the recent stir about presidential hopeful Mitt Romney forcibly cutting the hair of a fellow student when he attended a private school - as recalled by fellow students - also puts focus on the problem. Romney, who says he doesn't remember the incident, said "I participated in a lot of high jinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that, I apologize."
Even though it happened decades ago, equating that type of incident with "high jinks" shows how far many people still have to go to truly understand what bullying is.
Along with causing emotional stress and general distress, bullying also is causing children to fall behind in their education. About 160,000 children miss school every day out of fear of being bullied.
Fortunately, the issue is getting more attention and schools are trying to end the terrible practice.
At Cumberland Valley High School, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program started this year for staff and students. The program educates faculty and students on how to detect bullying signs, how to handle bullying situations and teaches prevention methods.
Some schools, public and private, now send letters home to parents explaining their zero tolerance on bullying, and posters plaster hallways with information telling students who to contact if they see another student being mistreated.
It is time we put an end to bullying. It is an effort that will need the attention of everyone: parents, teachers, school administrators, community members, and most of all, students. This is one school tradition passed down through the generations that must end.
- The Patriot-News