Monday, April 2, 2012

Bully Bully

"Bully," is a new documentary that is getting a lot of attention in the media. It tells the story of five families dealing with the issue. People commenting on the movie demonstrate a wide range of emotions on bullying.

Much of the focus on school-age bullying is the result of some horrific incidents that have resulted in tragedy. People today see bullying as a potential cause for suicide in the more vulnerable age groups. In some communities these are on the rise. Kids seem to be affected by the example of others--even in something as awful as suicide.

We all know that kids face many problems that they perceive as much more important than most adults around them fathom. It's very easy to underestimate a kid's feelings and perception of problems. And in today's world, kids see a lot of different ways people react to problems--often violently. They are seldom exposed to just one healthy response to anything. This is perhaps a big difference in our society today.

More and more People think of bullying as one of those acute problems that we need to understand much more as it greatly impacts our own kids and those around them.

There is no easy fix for bullying and there are probably very few experts. Many people suggest that the bully's parents were often bullies themselves. In these circumstances, some believe it's very difficult to get these parents to understand the issue to the point where they will cooperate effectively to stop it. Some still look at it like it's a natural part of growing up--suggesting that there will always be bullies and "outcasts" who get bullied--it will never change. They insist that Kids just need to stand up for themselves. Certainly kids need to stand up for themselves, but it is not likely to be the universal answer to bullying problems.

Situations can often be more complicated. Sometimes the kid who bullies others is suffering themselves from psychological problems that make it next to impossible for the bullied kid to defend against. These bullies don't necessarily care or even respond much when the bullied kid fights back. Some of these bullies may even get greater satisfaction when the bullied kid does fight back. When a child is being bullied, there may be two children who desperately need help not one.

Schools Must Face the Issue

Of course, most people will look to the schools to lead any efforts to work against bullying. The outcry for new programs will grow louder and some schools will make bullying the school problem du jour (if they haven't already)--at least for a while. Everyone knows that schools are not the best or the first place kids need to learn about human dignity, respect for others, self control--they need these from home. And yet, we know that families need help on these issues today. Even good parents can have kids with emotional or behavioral problems. It is important that parents continue to take responsibility for their children's behavior, but we should not ignore the fact that they need help.

Schools are faced with developing programs that work on making all our kids better and healthier human beings. Today schools help kids learn about treating other people with respect and feeling good about themselves regardless of how different they may be--working to improve their physical health and staying away from things that hurt them--controlling their anger and developing self-discipline--learning to live with and manage stress--and knowing when it's time to seek help for certain problems that seem beyond their grasp. Perhaps the schools will add bullying to programs that already exist or create more comprehensive programs that deal with the issue. I don't think it is helpful to pile one program on top of another--I think it makes more sense to create a comprehensive program that helps kids in a well rounded way throughout their schooling.

Generally, you see branded programs for a specific issue that gets wide distribution--sometimes with some special funding or grants. Recent programs have focused on drugs and drunk driving. Some of these have been notorious failures that cost many millions of dollars. Schools are of course, overburdened with demands in our society today. Some schools attempt to squeeze everything into a single health class. Kids might watch one horrific film after another about bad choices that others have made--educators hoping that the shock will work like a vaccination. Sometimes presentations are made by people who have paid the price personally for drunk driving or drug abuse. Certainly, these can help get important messages across to kids, but we may need a more comprehensive approach. Shouldn't our kids have a better healthier more compassionate sense of themselves as part of those 21st Century skills that the politicians and computer gurus have talked so much about? Can such programs help reduce the kind of behavior that leads to so many societal ills? It's hard to say. A lot of kids with problems just stop going to school.

How much are we willing to devote to helping all kids become healthier human beings through school programs? For every new program, there are other programs that must be reduced. Some parents don't even like their kids to take time for physical education even though such programs may be the only exercise some kids get. How will parents respond if the schools introduce comprehensive programs that focus on such mental and emotional health needs when they believe their own child couldn't possibly benefit from such a program? How will they respond when one program that may help their student is cut to make way for a program that serves more critical issue for others?

All you have to do is stand a few feet away from a teacher on an open house night for a real education on parental delusion and selfishness. You will often hear a parent talk about how wonderful their child is and how the teacher, the school, other kids, the coaches, and everyone else needs to work harder to see that their offspring gets the special attention and treatment they so richly deserve. Johnny is bored in AP Chemistry. Susie is just not an athletic kid and PE doesn't interest her. Why can't the school offer another semester of Chinese?

Most of the mental health and emotional problems that kids face today are not the kind of thing you want to see grow unattended for several years. A proactive approach to healthy mental and emotional health is needed--and it can't be a band-aid program or one class that each student must take once during high school. Programs to improve the health and well-being of students must be put front and center. Such programs won't solve all our ills, but they should help today's kids live in a healthier more peaceful world.
Copyright 2012, Sporing Chance Press
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Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and other fine sports books. Public Bonehead, Private Hero is a great American story of baseball’s Fred Merkle, who was at the confluence of Progressive Era history and baseball legend. The book sets the stage historically and then recounts the most famous play in baseball history. A young New York Giant, Fred Merkle, walks off the base path after the apparent end of a hotly contested game only to be ruled out later on a rarely enforced technicality. The Giants cried foul. The press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life, insuring his fame as baseball’s number one scapegoat. Today, we would say Merkle was bullied unmercifully by the press. Public Bonehead, Private Hero reveals how baseball fans and the press never tired of recounting the “bonehead episode” and seeing Merkle relive the ignominy. The book discloses that the cartoon character that was Fred Merkle in the public eye was the opposite of the sensitive, intelligent man who went on with his life and career with courage and determination.

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