This week, May 23-27, Maryland recognizes our second annual Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. Despite the commonly held perceptions, when it comes to bullying, everyone is a victim, from our schools to our communities. The message is simple: A child's mental health is just as important as their physical health.
Last year, we teamed up with the Maryland State Department of Education to declare Bullying Prevention and Awareness Week in May to encourage schools and communities across the state to engage students in events to stress nontolerance toward bullying.
Bullying may be physical or verbal. Teasing, harassing, spreading rumors, actively ignoring or intentionally hurting another child are all forms of bullying. Victims of bullying are more likely to experience depression, less likely to be accepted by classmates and may experience a drop in their self-esteem. And in some cases, the effects are fatal, causing our children to commit suicide or do harm to themselves — dimming the light on their once bright futures.
Bullies also face challenges; they can be less likely to do well in school and more likely to continue this behavior as adults.
The effects of bullying last a lifetime, and our goal is to keep our children safe and our families aware.
As parents, Martin and I, along with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, are committed to addressing bullying in our state. Though Maryland is the seventh state to enact an anti-bullying law that protects all students, there are still many instances of bullying throughout communities and schools. During the 2009-2010 school year in Maryland, a total of 3,318 incidents of bullying were reported — an increase of 2,132 over the previous year (the size of the increase was due in part to better reporting by schools). And still many instances go unreported.
This trend must be reversed. Parents today have to be more vigilant than ever against the silent taunting that is delivered through a computer screen or a cell phone. Without schoolyard witnesses, bullied kids can develop a sense of isolation and helplessness with no outward signs. And the bullies can be less mindful of the consequences of their actions, typing their words with their fingers rather than saying them out loud.
So we're taking action by partnering to protect our children.
This year, we are coming together with private and public partners to stand up against bullying in Maryland. I am honored to have joined with CBS Radio and WPGC-FM to help spread the word about the harmful effects of bullying. We are also joining with Children's Mental Health Matters!, a statewide education campaign of the Maryland Coalition of Families for Children's Mental Health and the Mental Health Association of Maryland and The Family Tree, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending child abuse and neglect.
It starts with each of us doing our part. Last week, I met with the talented students at Carver Center for the Arts and Technology who produced public service announcements to show the effects of bullying. And this week, Martin, Lieutenant Governor Brown and I will be traveling the state to raise awareness.
Please take a moment to talk with your children, educate yourselves and speak out against bullying in our schools and in our communities. Our children's future depends on it.
Katie O'Malley is Maryland's first lady. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.