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Anti-bullying education needs to be reformed now

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11

Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Williamsville, took his own life in September of 2011 because he was bullied for being gay.

Now over a year later, in the midst of National Anti-bullying Month, his parents are taking a stand to end bullying. Instead of calling for stricter laws or punishment for bullies, his family has been a key advocate of a new campaign – called “kNOw bullying!” – that hopes to teach kids respect at a younger age. The program begins this January and is sponsored by the Museum of disABILITY.

The program visits fourth-grade students across Western New York, teaching kids how to celebrate and respect themselves – a lesson in empathy and tolerance.

While this is a great idea and a huge step in terms of addressing the issue instead of ignoring it, it’s not enough on its own. Just telling kids something is wrong and they shouldn’t do it isn’t going to stop anything. The message isn’t strong enough from a one-day lecture. We need to be aggressive in finding a solution.

Just take a look at the D.A.R.E. program. Seventy-five percent of schools have implemented the anti-drug program, and millions of children learn the effects of drug abuse each year. But in 2010 (the most recent year of data), 22.6 percent of Americans aged 12 or older had used an illicit drug or abused prescription drugs in the past month, according to drugabuse.gov.

It seems the message goes in one ear and out the other.

Punishment alone will not stop anything. Remember when you were younger and you chewed gum in class or cheated on a test? You were sent to the principal’s office, and maybe you got detention or in-school suspension. You were excited to skip class and it seemed like a mini vacation. The consequences weren’t severe, and there was no reason to change your ways.

If we continue to give a slap on the wrist rather than educate, kids will grow up thinking they can get away with spewing hate and tormenting their peers.

The education needs to start at home. Parents need to teach their kids the concept of kindness right alongside the alphabet; compassion needs to be learned and it’s just as important as intellectual lessons – if not more.

Instead of teaching kids to fight back insults with harsh words or violence, we need to teach kids not to torment others in the first place. Things are best learned by example, and parents are their kids’ primary mentors.

Jennifer Livingston, a morning news anchor in Wisconsin, responded to a viewer who critiqued her for being overweight. She spent four minutes of her broadcast on Oct. 2 reprimanding the viewer and addressing the severity of this social issue.

“You don’t know me,” Livingston said to her bully. “You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family … you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on the scale.”

She worried for the kids who are learning to hate from their parents, stressing if a child heard a parent talking about the “fat news lady,” he or she will go to school and call a peer fat. The malice is passed down by example and through generations.

The guidance needs to start early – parents, from day one, should teach kindness and tolerance to their children. Schools, in turn, must reinforce these ideals in the classroom – consequences for bullying need to affect kids so they learn not to hate, and we need to use real examples to show kids how words can hurt.

We need role models like Livingston to tell kids it’s all right to tell an adult they’re being bullied. They need a role model, who’s in the public eye, who will stand up for them and say bullying is not OK.

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has stepped up in the Western New York community and has told stories of his own struggles with bullies in WIVB’s “Bully Project.”

Kids need more role models like Miller and need guidance at home and school to learn bullying is never OK. College students, as current and future parents, need to start the conversation and keep it going.

 

Email: editorial@ubspectrum.com

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