Moving as a teen from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I was in the majority, to rural Utah where I was in the minority, I was presented with unforgettable challenges and life lessons. I can relate to the apprehension and self-consciousness of looking different and wanting to be included and liked. I used to anticipate kids making reference to the holes in my jeans, my skin color, the difference in my hair or the fact that I wore the same clothes twice in one week. When there is an unbridled fear that may or may not exist, you walk around expecting the worst to happen and kids will feed off of that fear.
In some ways, I was really lucky. Sports helped me avoid a lot of this. My mom also instilled in me an important attitude of treating people the way I wanted to be treated.
While this attitude and sports helped me in high school, there were distressing moments when I saw kids tripped and girls called names. Although I didn’t participate, I didn’t stop it. Being a bystander to bullying also makes you part of the problem.
It is impossible to go through the school experience and not be touched by the effects of bullying. Today, I’m a teacher and a football coach. I definitely have a lot of empathy for kids who are struggling with hurtful times.
To me, there are some real solutions to the problem, and the first is teaching respect in the home. Too many times, parents are expecting teachers to handle these hard lessons. A teacher’s job is stressful enough without the expectation we will be parents, disciplinarians, counselors, friends and then educators. Parents have got to teach their kids respect.
People may say “well, this is just how society is today.” I disagree. I’m only 35 and I sure knew better than being disrespectful growing up. I’ve also heard we have so many younger parents today and that is part of the problem. I was a young parent and I have expectations of my teen daughter to be a good and respectful person. We all need to have higher expectations of our kids.
Defining bullying is another important part of the solution. I’ve been surprised in working with kids when they don’t consider their actions bullying or their joking around crossing the line. When one person becomes two and two become many, joking has crossed the line into the hurtful arena of bullying. Making kids aware of this makes a big difference in behavior and it applies to electronic bullying too. Kids feel disconnected to their actions when cyber-bullying using MySpace, Facebook and texting. This has to be included in the definitions of bullying as well.
Another solution is finding an advocate. Kids shouldn’t be afraid to tell someone. Find someone you trust and get help because no one should be scared to go to school. Students Taking A Right Stand or STARS has specialists in schools throughout the area who can offer this kind of help or call them at 615-279-0058.
When I have the opportunity to speak to kids, I talk about doing the right thing, standing up for good and helping slow down bad situations. Basically, I am challenging these students to be good leaders. I don’t think a lot of them understand leadership and it is critical we teach them. Leadership is more than seeing how many people will follow you or buy what you are selling. We need more kids to be great leaders like Martin Luther King who took adversity and made it work for the greater good.
I see a lot of people trying to make their kids ‘ lives better than their own. While it is a noble thing, giving your kids the latest tennis shoe or Xbox 360 doesn’t challenge their minds. We need to stop spoiling kids and stimulate their minds with activities like music lessons.
Teach respect in the home, define the problem, find an advocate, teach leadership and challenge kids’ minds. These are all important solutions. Ultimately, when any one of us has the opportunity, we need to take it and make a difference. I encourage my students and athletes to leave the world a better place. Leave the people with whom we have contact better off for knowing us. It is a fight we all have to keep fighting. But, if we can get just one person to make a difference, to stop being a by-stander and to step up, what a difference it can make.
Governor Phil Bredesen has proclaimed November 14-20 “Bullying Awareness Week” joining STARS in making an important difference in the lives of our teens. If you or anyone with whom you have contact needs help with bullying, be their advocate, contact STARS and you could make a difference in preventing a drastic and unnecessary outcome