Tragically, the headline read Deadly Bullying on cover of the October 18, 2010 issue of People. The issue relates stories of three teens: an 18-year-old male, and two 13-year-old males who had committed suicide within the last 30 days. The magazine then cites story after story of teenagers who are experiencing bullying for reasons of race, sexual orientation, religion, appearance and because of almost any way that one is different from his or her peer group or culture.
I thought it was insightful that one form that was identified as “bullying” was from the systems that handle those accused of bullying. The horror of the consequences of bullying has fueled a huge response creating a zero tolerance in some communities. Therefore, some of the students who were accused have been disciplined and not allowed to return to their schools. They are now ostracized from friends and school.
Bullying is a huge and complex issue
Bullying is garnering more media attention. The effectiveness of proposed solutions to such a set of problems of such serious implications are hard to evaluate. Yet, the severity of the problem mandates that we do everything we can to deal with these potential tragedies to human life for both the abused and abusers.
I am thankful there are many programs emerging showing a range of success. I know many great people are working through these issues and attempting to raise awareness, provide interventions and attempt to circumvent incidences where bullying is so destructive.
There are many ways to look at bullying
At the most basic level is the resounding theme from peers, parents and schools that “I had no idea!” If this problem is as pervasive as teenagers are reporting, we need to look closely at the environments of our teens and attempt to figure out how we can engage them into our communication.
As we become more aware of the research about adolescent development, as I have cited in previous posts , we have a lot of clues about what is going on in a teen’s life.
- Teens typically are not attuned to the consequences of their behavior due to their normal brain development.
- They are highly aware of their personal power (or lack thereof) as they move to independence.
- They have dramatic mood swings.
- Their significance is often related to their status with their peers.
- They are establishing their identity while their emotions are intense.
- They feel compelled to push away their parents and family as they assert their new roles.
I think it is extremely important to recognize that these are some of the many issues that are normal to teenagers. Therefore, it will be more important than ever that the relationships we build with teenagers are safe, non-judgmental, relevant and intentional.
We have a society that has introduced many powerful and often destructive values that we need to counter with caring and mindful teachers, parents and mentors who will be ready to spend valuable time to listen to our teenagers, advocate for them, accept them, love them, provide safety for them and be there in the moments where life seems to contain a point of struggle.
Even though teens are sometimes difficult to understand, it is essential that we start with their key relationships. If we are in those relationships, we stand a better chance of being in the place where we will have clarity about what they are facing each day. It is my hope that as we do this, we will not be in the tragic place of having to say, “I had no idea!”
More to come in future posts. Thank you for reading and caring about teens.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Photo of People Magazine, Courtesy of People via Cover Awards