Ending Bullying, Saving Lives: The Time is Now
by Jody Miller, Executive Director, Mediation Center of Dutchess County
There have been three child and teen suicides due to bullying since September. 15 year old Felicia Garcia threw herself off of a train platform in Staten Island. 15 year old Amanda Todd made a video that silently told her story as she held up index cards, one by one, describing her desperation before she took her life. 10 year old Jasmine McClain hung herself after being teased about her clothes and her shoes.
All three girls described relentless bullying by students to friends and family. Amanda changed schools. Felicia ignored them and at times, stood up for herself. Jasmine left school for a period of time, returning only 1 month ago. Frequently in conversations about bullying, I’ll hear, “We were bullied when we were kids. What’s different now? “ Much is different today including the inability to find any safe space as cyber-bullying increases its devastating effects. What’s different today is that children as young as 7, as well as teenagers, are tragically ending their lives - when what we need to end is bullying.
It is estimated that more than 160,000 students each day stay away from school due to bullying. A 2008 study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated the association between bullying and health problems and concluded that bullying should be considered a significant international public health issue. As a nation, we are beginning to recognize bullying as the public health issue that it is, often with tragic consequences. We are beginning to take action at federal and state levels as well as in the private sector. Recognizing that a national strategy was needed to prevent and address bullying, for the first time, the White House convened a bullying prevention summit in March, 2011 that brought together leading bullying prevention experts that resulted in the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Initiative. The Third Bullying Prevention Summit, convened by the Department of Education in August, 2012, brought these federal partners and others back together to describe initiatives since the first Summit. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius, the keynote speaker, discussed the national strategies in development as well as the public-private partnerships that have been created. She discussed the launch of the website Stopbullying.gov, a resource for kids, teens, parents and educators to learn to prevent and stop bullying. She discussed the necessity of uniform data collection to inform further research that will be conducted through the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Dept. of Justice Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West described the Defending Childhood Initiative, designed to protect children from exposure to violence including violence by other children. Cynthia Germanotta, who with her daughter, Lady Gaga, created the Born This Way Foundation to create a kinder, braver world, spoke on a panel with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. She described the years of bullying Lady Gaga experienced, her openness with her fans as she described those experiences and one day, returning from a European tour, turned to her mother and said, “It’s time to start a movement.”
Today, 49 states have anti-bullying laws in effect; in 2009 and 2010, 36 states passed or amended anti-bullying laws, often strengthening them. In August, 2012, the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, commissioned by executive order, released a comprehensive report with seven recommendations to assure students a safe and supportive school environment. Outcomes of the report include the adoption of operational definitions of bullying, harassment and intimidation so that the school community can effectively identify and respond to bullying behaviors, clear and consistent policies to address bullying in every public and private school to effectively protect children, the creation of uniform baseline data collection systems in all schools, policies and practices that create and enhance communication between and among school personnel, students, parents and community members, interagency and interdepartmental collaborations to assist schools in identifying, preventing, intervening in and addressing bullying effectively, and fiscal resources at the state and local level commensurate to fulfilling the report’s recommendations. In New York, the Dignity for All Students Act, became effective on July 1, 2012. It requires the training of staff to raise awareness, prevent and respond to harassment and discrimination, designating a staff person as the Dignity Act Coordinator, thoroughly trained to address human relations of the Dignity Act, incorporating curricula on diversity and sensitivity into lessons on civility and citizenship and reporting harassment and discrimination incidents at least annually to the NYS Education Department.
In October the Ad-Council, in partnership with other groups including the Dept. of Education and the Health and Human Services Administration, kicked off the campaign ‘Be More Than a Bystander,’ aimed at parents to teach their children how to do something rather than watch or ignore bullying. Information can be found on stopbullying.gov. From national and state government, to the private sector, to an icon in pop culture, the movement to end bullying is growing. In memory of Felicia, Amanda and Jasmine and to prevent other young people from taking their lives, we need to speed it up.