I was a junior in high school when the Columbine shootings took place. I was terrified and confused about how a school situation could get that out of control without anyone stepping in before it had to end in tragedy. There were scary moments at my high school, bomb threats, guns reported on campus and fights, but until Columbine, I never felt truly unsafe at school. But then again, I wasn't a victim of bullying and I didn't pick on or harass others. Not after one particular incident.
We were in middle school together and I think he was the only child that had a harder time spelling than I did. A couple other kids and I started making fun of him and telling him to spell words, then laughing when he'd get them wrong. It was a total mob mentality. Truth is, I liked this kid. He was my friend. But when all the other kids thought it was so funny to hear him misspell, I chimed right in.
He told the teacher, who sat me down and explained how hurt my friend was, why what I had done was wrong and that it was my job to stick up for kids when they couldn't defend themselves. He didn't cry or say stop but obviously that incident cut him deeper than any of us could see. I felt so bad (obviously, since I've never forgotten it) that I never teased or bullied a kid again.
Bullying has made national headlines in recent months due to a handful of well-publicized suicides reportedly linked to harassment and bullying. Just reading the horrific stories of Phoebe Prince, Jaheem Herrera and Seth Walsh makes it impossible not to be furious with the school administrators, the parents and most of all, the bullies in each scenario.
Bullies prey on the vulnerable. They find someone smaller, weaker and less popular and they use that 'power' to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities. Unfortunately that mentality is often infectious. Just like me in middle school, I figured as long as everyone was making fun of someone else, I wouldn't have to fear people noticing my faults. It made me part of a group, rather than an outsider. Fortunately, it only took one guil- ridden experience, one intervening adult, to open my eyes that this behavior was far more hurtful than I'd imagined.
Kids and teens are in a tough stage of their lives to begin with. I cannot imagine the pain of being that impressionable and vulnerable and being bullied on top of it. Bullies aren't always just what we think of from the movies and television. It's not always just some sweaty meathead stealing your lunch money. With technology, bullies can spread their hatred in an instant and can pick on their victims outside of school hours. Called cyber-bullying, kids harass each other on email, instant message and social media pages. Obviously one of the worst aspects of this type of bullying is that these messages can be seen and sent by numerous classmates and can be cleverly anonymous.
In a recent study by the Josephson Institute of Ethics over 40,000 high school students were asked about bullying and violence in their schools. The study found that "one-third of all high school students say that violence is a big problem at their school, and nearly one in four says they do not feel very safe there."
This is becoming such a widespread problem that President Obama released an anti-bullying video and stated that the country must,"dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up." Several celebrities have also put out anti-bullying messages over the past few months via social media.
Parents on both sides of this issue need to be aware of their kid's behavior. If your kid is being bullied, you need to take action and if your kid is the bully, you need to make it clear that there will be serious consequences. Cell phones are frowned upon in most work places during business hours so why are kids in high school and younger allowed to carry phones in school? This situation is just asking for trouble.
If children committing suicide due to bullying isn't enough to get parents and school administrators involved, what will be enough? School shootings? Another Columbine? There is no excuse for the behavior of bullying. I don't care what age you are. If your child is being bullied, don't wait until next week or tomorrow to call their school, to sit down with their teacher or if the bullying is malicious enough to warrant it, call the police. If your kid is the class bully, like it or not, it starts with you and it's time to lay down some serious house rules or the death of a classmate could be on your kid's head, and by association, on your head.
I knew better than to bully other children. My parents would not have tolerated such behavior but, away from them at school, I slipped into this mob mentality. One caring teacher stepped up to remind me what is right and what is wrong. From that situation I learned how hurtful it was to treat people that way.
School is a place in which children have every right to feel safe. Teachers and administrators that stand by and dismiss bullying should be fired and children that commit bullying need to be threatened with expulsion. No more excuses. Sometimes all it takes is one adult to open the eyes of a child to the pain they are causing. Maybe that adult is you.
No, the OnMilwaukee.com sex columnist's real name is not Sarah Foster. (Foster is the model/actress that played an ex-lover of Vincent Chase in the first season of "Entourage.") In reality, our sex columnist is a Wisconsin native with a degree in journalism and a knack for getting people to talk to her.
Sarah never considered herself an "above average" listener. Others, however, seem to think differently. Perhaps she has a sympathetic tone or expression that compels people to share their lives and secrets with her despite how little they know her. Everyone from the girl that does her hair to people in line at the grocery store routinely spill the details of their lives and relationships to Sarah, unprompted but typically not unwanted. It’s strange to her that people would do this, but she doesn’t mind. Sarah likes that she can give advice even if it is to complete strangers.
So why the pseudonym? Simple. People tell Sarah these things because for some reason they trust her. They believe she cares and therefore will keep their secrets in a locked vault the same way a best friend or therapist would. Sarah won't name names, but that vault is now unlocked.