By Javier LaFianza
Four years ago, the country was awakened to a long known but seldom discussed tragedy when the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that nearly one-third of all students aged 12-18 reported having been bullied at school, some almost daily.
Two years later, the 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety reported that the needle hadn’t moved at all, as one-third of teens stated that they had been bullied while on school grounds, on the school bus, or on the way to school.
School bullying is now a national epidemic. Here in Orange County and throughout the nation, attention must be paid.
School bullying includes peer-to-peer, bullying of younger children by older children, or bullying in which a teacher is either a victim or a culprit. Emotional bullying is the most prevalent followed by pushing, shoving, tripping and being spit on.
And we now have cyber-bullying to worry about as well. Recently Rusty Kennedy, executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, said the Internet’s veil of anonymity makes it easier for students to bully or harass.
Victims of bullying are often scarred for life and display a wide range of responses including low self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, lack of assertiveness, aggression, and isolation.
Bullying at its extreme has led to tragic suicides, such as the 2009 case of a 16-year old at San Clemente High who shot himself in front of a friend’s home as a result of the bullies who made his life “a living hell.” And just this past September, a 14-year old Orange County teenager was tortured by school bullies who broke his jaw and taunted him until he too committed suicide.
In a curious sense, the victims of bullying are also the bullies themselves, who have turned early in life to this harmful behavior. While psychiatrists debate the root causes of bullying, many agree that it often stems from a negative environment, a lack of self-esteem and a shortage of positive influences in the child’s life.
It is long-past time for school faculty, community leaders and concerned parents to do their part in helping to eradicate this tragic stain on our society. But there is another group of individuals who can play an even more important role. They are the students themselves.
Through Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership we connect with 10,000 high-schoolers every year – many in Orange County, where each spring we conduct a multi-day leadership program. These students are not just the leaders of tomorrow – they are the leaders of today who can make a sustaining impact right now if their power and passion is channeled in the right direction.
That is why we have decided to incorporate the subject of bullying into our 2012 curriculum and are committed to providing America’s youth the information and skills they need to be a positive influence.
Starting students on a positive path begins with a commitment to service and a cause greater than oneself. Youth service contributes to identity development, increased self-esteem and the development of empathy for others. It also provides students with new opportunities for personal growth, as well as the education, role models, motivation and support needed to succeed.
And it gives youth the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and others, perhaps even intervening in bullying situations, as we have heard many times from our HOBY Ambassadors.
Parents, schools, local businesses, service clubs and churches must all play a part in helping steer students in a positive direction. They can do this by supporting their dreams, encouraging their passions, setting good examples and giving them the opportunity to contribute.
For at the end of the day, the solution to youth bullying lies with the youth themselves who through demonstrating leadership in thought and action, will create an environment and a “new order” where bullying of any kind is simply not tolerated.
Javier LaFianza is president and CEO of Southern California-based Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, the nation’s top not-for-profit youth leadership development organization.