Despite recent efforts to downplay its current societal impact, bullying remains a legitimate safety concern for both parents and students alike. The existence of a toxic (and potentially lethal) combination of increased reports of harassment, accusations against schools for intentionally under-reporting acts of bullying, along with a sharp rise in teenage suicide is creating a perfect storm; one that suggests bullying remains, and rightly so, the biggest fear for families in America.
A Family Destroyed
Despite the misguided perception that bullying has decreased in our public schools, the shock waves dispersed throughout the United States as a result of Brandy Vela’s death gave us all a much needed reality check.
On November 29, 2016, Vela, an 18-year-old Texan and high school senior, succumbed to injuries suffered as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Feeling as though the constant stream of harassing comments flooding her social media would leave her forever drowning in self-doubt and depression, the mentally exhausted teenager shot herself in front of her parents and sister.
Vela had been frequently victimized by tormenting peers for a variety of petty reasons. In one instance, a number of students created fake Facebook and Twitter accounts under her name. The profiles, assuming the identity of Ms. Vela, referred to the account holder as being a “hoe” and “slut” while offering local boys “sex for free” (Keating, 2016). While Vela reported the harassing behavior to school officials at Texas City High School, she was told that there was unfortunately nothing that could be done due to the nature of the social media applications used to create the fake profiles. Left stunned with feelings of loneliness and despair, Brandy Vela believed that suicide was the only answer. And so, she took her own life.
Vela’s devastating death is a tragic reminder of the carnage frequently left behind in the wake of callous bullying. Many states have enacted anti-bullying legislation of some kind believing that such laws will eradicate bullying. Such a belief is, in my opinion, the very definition of naivety.
Bullying Figures Trending Up
Since the 2016 Presidential Election, the number of reported instances of bullying in our public schools has risen sharply. The result of the last election makes combating bullying and harassment all the more challenging. The man seen by many to be the one spewing hateful rhetoric at every campaign stop won. Yes, the so-called bully emerged victorious.
If you’re someone actively engaging in the hurtful treatment of another human being, what motivation do you now have to cease such behavior?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the aforementioned presidential election created an unbelievable amount of racial tensions in classrooms across America (Wilkie, 2016). In surveying over 2,000 teachers, the SPLC found that more than a third of the educators questioned stated that they “noticed a rise in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment among their students” after the election (2016).
In addition, the report went on to say that there was fear that American schoolchildren were beginning to adopt President Trump’s “overall tone,” including an increase in name-calling and scapegoating (2016). Teachers, according to results of the survey, expressed concern over the fact that kids were openly expressing “more hatred for more people” (2016).
Are Schools Under-Reporting Bullying Incidents?
With new legislation comes new (see: greater) responsibilities with threats of consequence for noncompliance. In the case of recently passed anti-bullying laws, schools have been told that they are mandated to report each instance of bullying. Sounds great, right? Not so fast.
Unfortunately, in an education landscape filled with building ratings and school choice, it’s easy to imagine that schools will do everything in their power to project an image of being a bully-free zone.
However, is the fear of repercussion and potential loss of students leading to the under-reporting and handling of potential bullying cases?
As we know, bullying is something that occurs in all schools, regardless of who our elected officials may be. Thus, it came to the utter surprise of many when 71% of New York City public schools reported zero incidents of bullying for the entire 2013-2014 school year (Chapman, 2016).
Yes, the data presented here is outdated. However, one has to, at the very least, question these schools.
Do you believe that 71% of all NYC schools had absolutely zero instances of bullying? Neither can I.
As such, I’m must ponder…
What happened to those forgotten students who were bullied?
Troubling Increase in Teenage Suicide Linked to Cyber-bullying
According to recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates for boys aged 15 to 19 has “increased more than 30 percent” (Duncan, 2017). In addition, the CDC says suicide rates for teenage girls are at “a 40-year high” (2017).
While past forms of bullying used to remain within the walls of school, social media has allowed tormentors to continue their relentless attacks around the clock. For the victim, there’s now no escaping the hate. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, has gone on record as saying, “Teens are much more likely now than they were just five years ago, or seven years ago, to say that they are anxious and depressed and thinking about suicide” (2017).
Cyber-bullying in general is difficult to manage since laws are still attempting to catch up with the technological capabilities of the 21st Century. In addition, since the majority of cyber-bullying takes place off school grounds, it remains unclear in many states across the country as to what, if anything, schools can do to punish offenders.
Clearly, communities and lawmakers need to come together to discuss ways to deter such cowardly attacks toward vulnerable students and, as a result, hopefully save the lives of bullying victims.
A Battle Far from Over
Yes, this particular post paints a pessimistic view of the state of bullying facing our nation’s children. However, I believe that examining the painful truths that exist is the only way to bring about positive change. It’s sadly too late to save the lives of young children we’ve lost due to bullying. However, we must keep their memory alive by continuing to fight on their behalf.
To those of you who witness bullying, I challenge you to say something.
To those of you who have committed acts of bullying, I challenge you to stop.
If you’re currently sitting in front of your computer scared and alone, know that you’ll find happiness.
Should you be deathly afraid of waking up for school tomorrow, know that teachers will be there for you.
If you’re laying in bed, wanting so desperately for the pain to end, know that it will.
Don’t you ever give up. Things will get better for you. I promise you this with all my heart.
You are worthy of experiencing the limitless possibilities and joys this world has to offer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you need to talk, know that there are people who will listen.
You are not alone.
We are here.
You are seen.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline. They’re ready to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, they have also started online chats to help you or your loved one in a time of need.