Keeping our kids from killing

Cut out bullying, guns

March 27, 2001|By Linda Goldman

TOO FEW OF us see the relationship between juvenile homicide and suicide and repressed rage from years and years of bullying, taunting, intimidation, isolation and abuse by classmates taking place within our schools in this country.

Bullying has become a national disease, an epidemic reaching record proportions with kids, from preschoolers to teens.

School shootings affect kids, parents, educators, communities and nations. The violence in our youth terrifies their peers and the adults around them.

The shooting at Santana High in San Diego, Calif., is one of the many horrific examples with bullying and victimization at its core. The gunman was a 15-year-old boy whose rampage killed two of his classmates and wounded 13 others.

It was reported that he had suffered verbal abuse and was constantly subjected to ridicule at school. He was called "gay", "skinny", and "a country boy".

"Bullies and Victims," a 1996 book by Suellen Fried and Paula Fried, quoted the National Education Association as estimating "that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students."

Like the shooter's friends who heard plans to kill classmates and kept silent, the adult who was told also did not tell. This adult said the troubled teen was just kidding about his threats and explained, "I never thought he would do that. I knew he was teased and taunted. I saw it happen myself."

Again and again we hear of students who resort to violent rampages after being victims of continuing harassment at school over long periods. No adult or peer stands up to stop the abuse. Victimized youth become numbed, disconnected from their hearts, their minds and their consciousness. All too often they choose guns, drugs, and violence as viable alternatives.

These kids live in isolated, hate-filled worlds with no moral compass to help them navigate through their destructive feelings and thoughts.

Our Western concept of a gun-toting anti-hero only magnifies and glamorizes an angry youth's attraction to guns.

Gun control is one timely argument to help stop the violence in our schools and curb the aftermath of bullying and victimization. Clearly we must recognize the impulsiveness of children and teens and the allure and mystification surrounding guns in today's culture.

Studies show that our brightest children, when left alone with a gun, act impulsively and will play dangerously with it. They seem to forget all of the adult warnings for that instant gratification of feeling all-powerful.

If they have no access to guns, they cannot follow through by using them.

ABC-TV's "Prime Time Live" reported March 8 that, "43 percent of American homes have guns," saying that if your kids don't have them in their home, statistically, the kids in the house next door probably do.

In today's world, our children can't stop bullying or violence without the guidance, modeling and absolute support of the adult world. Zero tolerance of threats and violence is imperative.

Schools must vigilantly create no-bullying policies and teach children from kindergarten through 12th-grade to recognize bullying behaviors in themselves and others.

It's important to define bullying for children, explain the difference between telling and tattling and instill the concept that we help people and save lives by speaking out. Children need a clear policy for strategies to deal with bullying and accessibility to adults that will take charge. It is impossible for the children to solve bullying issues alone.

Parents, educators and other caring professionals are role models. Their behaviors and words can reflect non- violent relationships and safe ways to express anger. Verbal abuse, physical threats and sexual innuendoes cannot be tolerated.

A 6-year-old girl relayed a story of being picked on and called names for being overweight. She ran home to be comforted by her mom, tears streaming down her face. "Stop that crying," her mother demanded, slapping her.

A sixth-grader, Tony, was tormented at lunch by bullies that constantly wrecked his and his friends' lunches. Telling the teacher did him no good. The bullies and victims were punished together for creating a disturbance.

In both instances, the harassed children were punished for telling adults.

Adults can spontaneously create teachable moments about bullying when watching news with kids, teaching current events in the classroom or even witnessing mistreatment at a shopping mall.

Talk with children about what is acceptable and appropriate behavior. Teach children guidelines to follow to report threats safely. Guide them to see any bullying behaviors in themselves and implement boundaries to help them eliminate these behaviors.

Combining restrictive laws on guns, changing the mentality on bullying, and maintaining the capability of adults being accessible to kids is a solid beginning to stop school violence. Gun safety legislation can be followed with mental health legislation for our youth.

Compassion, kindness and responsibility for oneself and others can be taught and learned. Intimidation and abuse can be branded and extinguished. Only then can we help children grow their hearts in order to grow their consciousness.

Linda Goldman, who was a teacher and guidance counselor in the Baltimore County schools for nearly 20 years, is a grief therapist and educator who lives in Chevy Chase. She is the author of "Life and Loss: A Guide to Help Grieving Children" (Turner and Francis, 1994, 2000).

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